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Cubs bristle at post-clinch ‘spring training’ approach after loss

Cubs starter Jake Arrieta stares down home plate ump Chris Guccione in Wednesday's first inning.

PITTSBURGH – Good thing for the Cubs they have only four more games before returning to a full-tilt assault on the playoffs.

Because they might have reached an emotional tipping point Wednesday night after nearly two weeks of trying to balance a “spring training” approach to preparing for the playoffs against their major-league pride in making a major-league effort to win games in September.

“It felt like a spring training game from the get-go,” starter Jake Arrieta said after an 8-4 loss to the Pirates that seemed to leave him more chapped after a start than at any other time this season.

Arrieta (18-8) shouldered the blame for not being “crisp” and not pitching well enough, but he and some teammates seem irritated by some of the spring-like juggling manager Joe Maddon and the front office are doing with lineups, starters’ schedules and bullpen mixes as they plan for some of the upcoming roster decisions and prep for the playoffs.

“The feel of the game just from the first pitch wasn’t there,” said Arrieta, who gave up three on a Jason Jaso homer in the fourth, then three more on four consecutive two-out hits in the fifth after rookie Willson Contreras replaced Miguel Montero behind the plate. “Switching catchers just felt like we were trying to do a little too much instead of winning a ballgame.”

Maddon said he knew Arrieta – who snapped on home-plate ump Chris Guccione in the first – was upset afterward.

“He was during the game, too. He’ll be fine,” the manager said when asked about the postgame comments. “I thought we were in pretty good position to win tonight. I thought we swung the bats well. And we didn’t take Miggy out until the score was 4-1. I did not want to make a switch until it got to a certain number of pitches and see how many innings he was going to throw.”

Both Maddon and Montero said Arrieta had good stuff Wednesday. But Montero seemed to sympathize with the Arrieta’s mindset.

“Honestly, I don’t know if his mind was all up there. He got a little bit upset in the first inning,” Montero said. “I don’t know what happened.

“But it had a feel like in spring training, I do believe that,” he said. “And that’s not a good feeling for a pitcher, for a player, to go into a game knowing that you’re going to play just four innings or five innings or whatever it is. This game’s still important for all the players.

“I don’t want to go out there not caring about wining or losing. My mentality is that I want to win, regardless. It can be a little bit tough on players’ minds, so we have to find a point where we have to trick our mind. If that’s how we’re going to go the rest of the way, I guess we need to trick ourselves.”

Montero also seemed irritated that because of the bullpen scripts being used this week, the Cubs didn’t have a closer available as they tried to hold a lead Tuesday that slipped to two runs before surviving a three-run ninth to win by two.

“I take it personal because I’m catching, and I want to win. It’s hard,” he said. “but I understand [Maddon’s point], and I understand the organization’s point. And I respect it.”

Maddon pointed to the fact that the team has performed well during the “spring training” stretch. “I don’t think we have any issues,” he said.