It’s a pity Jake Arrieta won’t be pitching against the Cubs during the Phillies’ three-game series at Wrigley Field this week. It’s one of the few things left on his Ways to Remind the Cubs They Made a Horrible Mistake checklist.
He already said his piece about his departure from Chicago in an interview with the Sun-Times last month, and if there was anything left unspoken, he has filled in the blanks with a 5-3 record and a 2.66 ERA.
But even the staunchest Cubs fan and Yu Darvish supporter would have appreciated the symmetry of Arrieta standing on the mound again at Wrigley. Surely the former college sportswriter inside team president Theo Epstein would have, too.
Alas, it won’t happen. Arrieta pitched Sunday, howled at the sky about bad defensive shifts and reminded everyone about his competitive fire. The unfortunate timing of his most recent start means he won’t be available for the series, which starts Tuesday. I’m guessing he could pitch all three games on adrenaline alone.
Cubs fans will be deprived of the opportunity to cheer Arrieta again for all that he did for the franchise during his 4 1/2 seasons here. Would it be piling on Darvish and Epstein? Of course it would be, but no more so than the abuse the two have taken already for their baseball marriage.
It’s futile to tell people that it’s too early to judge the Jake-Yu tradeoff. I’ve tried and have been shouted down. The comparison is too obvious, too flesh-and-blood, too immediate. Two pitchers stand before us. One is having a fine year. The other has had everything go wrong, short of his arm detaching from his body, and don’t rule out that possibility just yet.
But if this situation were a grade, it would be an incomplete. Many people have declared the Cubs’ decision to make a “lowball” offer to Arrieta and sign Darvish a catastrophe. I called it a disaster in progress the other day. Two months into the season, it certainly is. But the contracts the two men signed aren’t two-month contracts.
Here’s the crux of the Darvish issue: Is there something in his first two months with the Cubs that points to long-term failure? No, there isn’t. He’s on the disabled list right now with tendinitis in his right triceps, and he had another stay on the DL because of the flu. When he has actually pitched, he has struggled, done in by a bad inning in too many games. He’s 1-3 with a 4.95 ERA, and if you’re into comparison shopping, well, stop. Arrieta is killing him in a side-by-side taste test.
But let’s try to remember what the issues were with Jake when he left, beyond the fact that he wanted much more money than the Cubs were offering. Fans still loved him and were forever appreciative of his 2015 Cy Young and his two victories in the 2016 World Series. But he had slipped after the Cy Young season. His fastball had lost some urgency, and his control too often acted contrary. He was still good, just not as good.
Which is the real Arrieta – the one who had tailed off the previous two seasons or the one who has shined in the first two months of this season? The former, I believe.
The problem, of course, is that the Arrieta decision wasn’t made in isolation. It was made in tandem with the decision that Darvish was the better pitcher long-term.
Long term, Darvish will be the better pitcher. But it’s almost impossible to see that through the darkness and misery of his short time here. There has been so much attention and so much discussion of his woes that visibility is down to about two feet.
There’s a perception out there that Arrieta is strong mentally and Darvish isn’t. It’s interesting that in a game dominated by analytics that something as unmeasurable as mental toughness is such a huge topic of conversation. But the truth is that nobody knows what goes on in Darvish’s head, just as we don’t know for sure what’s going on in the heads of our closest friends.
Better to drop the amateur psychology. If not — if Darvish does bounce back to his normal excellent self on the mound — then we should expect all the people who have diagnosed him as soft to admit they were wrong. Somehow, I don’t think we’re going to get an apology.
Darvish isn’t going to end up a disaster in Chicago. A disappointment, possibly. But it’s more likely that he’ll bounce back, simply because there’s too much talent and too much of a track record of success.
The nice guy inside me (really!) wants to see Darvish succeed. The columnist in me wanted to watch the spectacle of Arrieta shutting down the Cubs at Wrigley this week. The two teams meet again in late August/early September in Philadelphia. How about a Yu-Jake showdown with both at the top of their games? Maybe you can have it all.
Sun-Times sports columnists Rick Morrissey and Rick Telander are co-hosts of a new podcast called “The Two Ricks: Unfiltered.” Don’t miss their candid, amusing takes on everything from professional teams tanking to overzealous sports parents and more. Download and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts and Google Play, or via RSS feed.