PITTSBURGH — Nobody said it was going to be easy.
But who knew that Cubs were going to start dropping like flies hit toward Melky Cabrera? Who knew the road back to the playoffs would be this full of sinkholes and detours?
The Cubs are still in first-place by 3½ games with 25 left — thanks in large part to a cooperative division.
But that could change quickly based on what they find out in the next day or two about Jake -Arrieta’s tight hamstring.
The hottest pitcher in the majors left the Cubs’ 12-0 loss to the Pirates in the third inning Monday when the middle of the right hamstring “grabbed” on a pitch to the third batter of the inning.
“I’ve never really had any -hamstring issue before. It’s kind of a foreign feeling,” said Arrieta, the National League’s pitcher of the month in August. “I think it could have been a lot worse. No pop or anything like that. So that’s a good sign.”
Arrieta is to be re-evaluated Tuesday, at which point the medical staff could determine whether he should get an MRI exam. For now the team has not labeled the injury beyond calling it tightness as it waits for Arrieta’s reaction to icing overnight and the next exam.
What’s already clear is that the hits haven’t stopped coming for the defending champs — as in disabled-list stretches for Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Ben Zobrist, Justin Grimm, Jason Heyward (twice), Koji Uehara, Brett Anderson, Addison Russell and Willson Contreras.
Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez all have missed a game or two at a time for lesser injuries.
And then on Monday afternoon in the third inning, Arrieta tried to throw a practice pitch under the trainer’s supervision after stretching the sore area — and abruptly stopped as he tried to push off the right leg, clearly in pain.
The pitcher the Cubs can least afford to lose at this most critical time of the season then walked off the field, with some help from the trainer.
Just one more injury in a sea of them for the Cubs after back-to-back seasons of remarkably good health and deep playoff runs.
“It seems that way,” Arrieta said. “Obviously with Willson [pulling a hamstring] in San Francisco, that was unfortunate. Addy’s [foot] situation. This.
“But we’ll deal with it. We’ll manage it. We’ll get through it. I don’t foresee it being a serious deal. But we’ll see how I feel in the morning and decide whether an MRI is something we need.”
Arrieta, who was 7-2 with a 1.69 ERA through July and August combined, said after the game that based on how he felt then he thought he might be able to make his next scheduled start in the weekend series against the second-place Milwaukee Brewers.
“Let’s just wait till tomorrow or the next day and see what we’ve got,” said manager Joe Maddon, who has left-hander Mike Montgomery stretched out and ready to stay in the rotation if necessary.
“If anything were to occur that Jake cannot go, then we’re kind of covered with Mike,” Maddon said.
Meanwhile, a game that began with Josh Bell’s two-run homer off Arrieta in the first and got worse with the hamstring injury in the third got so out of hand in the late innings against a short-handed bullpen that Maddon went to new Cubs outfielder Leonys Martin to get the final two outs in his Cubs debut.
The Cubs got Lester back Saturday, expect Baez back Tuesday, could get Contreras back by next week and possibly Russell by the end of the month.
And now they wait on Arrieta.
“It’s unfortunate, but I think it’s going to be OK,” he said.
Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.