The Cubs clinched the National League Central title Thursday, broke out the bubbly Friday and spent the early part of Saturday blow-drying the wet clubhouse floors.
With two weeks to go in the regular season, the Cubs will try to maintain the best record in baseball, assemble a postseason roster and figure out what’s happening with Jake Arrieta’s command.
The reigning Cy Young winner walked four batters in an 11-3 loss to the Brewers at Wrigley Field. The walks on their own weren’t what doomed the Cubs, but Arrieta’s spotty command cost him in a three-run sixth inning capped by Ryan Braun’s go-ahead home run.
Arrieta has walked 21 batters in his last six starts compared to the 10 he walked in the six before that.
Manager Joe Maddon admitted after the game that there’s concern.
“Yes, of course there is,” Maddon said. “We have to figure out exactly what’s going wrong. Yes, I cannot deny that, and I’m sure he’ll say the same thing.”
While not as superb as his award-winning turn in 2015, Arrieta has put together a solid 2016 season on the whole. He picked up where he left off at the start of the season, leading the Cubs to wins in his first 10 outings. He has proved to be mortal since.
Arrieta went 0-3 in July despite two strong seven-inning outings. He went 4-0 in August despite giving up five runs or more in two starts. He hasn’t made it past the sixth inning in any of his three September starts.
“I’m not concerned with it,” said Arrieta, who probably won’t be able to get to 20 wins with a 17-7 record. “I just need to find that comfort zone with the sinker in the strike zone on the first pitch. And then after that, it opens up a lot of doors.
“We’re working on it. I just need to be better early in the counts to prevent guys from taking pitches and getting into 2-1, 3-1 counts.”
Arrieta kept the Brewers off the scoreboard through the first three innings and gave up only an unearned run in the fourth.
He walked leadoff man Jonathan Villar in the sixth before a double to Scooter Gennett. That set up the two-run blast from Braun on a full count. It was the first of two homers for Braun and gave Milwaukee a 4-3 lead.
“Just poor execution,” Arrieta said.
The bullpen didn’t do much better. Carl Edwards Jr. and Spencer Patton combined to give up three homers and seven earned runs in two innings.
The loss was the Cubs’ worst since a 14-3 defeat July 3 against the Mets. They gave up four homers at Wrigley for the first time since 2012.
“We missed location on several pitches, and give them credit, they did not miss the baseball,” Maddon said. “That’s what I saw.”
The good news, Maddon said, is that Arrieta’s command issues should be fixable in his remaining starts before the postseason.
“I really believe that,” he said. “We have some ideas. We’ll definitely go over it with him. And in spite of that, look at what he’s done to this point. That’s the biggest thing. If we can get him to get better command of his fastball the next two starts, everything else will play off of that.”
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