The Chicago Cubs have already clinched a playoff spot and the NL Central division title. But nothing is ever perfect on a baseball team, even the one with the best record in the majors. All of a sudden, Jake Arrieta losing some of his power and velocity is a potential cause for concern, especially this close to the postseason.
After surrendering just 3 home runs through his first 15 starts (1.76 ERA, 9.82 strikes per nine innings), Arrieta has gone on to give up up 12 home runs through his next 14 starts, pitching for 87.1 innings (4.33 ERA, 7.12 strikeouts per nine innings). He no longer looks like someone likely to repeat as the NL Cy Young winner, with his May and June pitching not enough to carry his excellence forward.
Arrieta is pitching about 2 to 3 mph slower in August and September than he did at the same time last year. But Joe Maddon thinks it’s Arrieta trying to do more control stuff, and that he’s not worried, thinking that his power will be back in the postseason. The Cubs are going to try and give their top 3 pitchers (Arrieta, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks) more rest from now until the end of the season, but the declining numbers and velocity from Arrieta isn’t causing the Cubs to lose any sleep.
Arrieta is still difficult to hit, allowing batters to hit only .185 off of him. He’s walking more batters, but as long as his pitches don’t end up out of the park, the Cubs seem comfortable with what he’s trying to work on. From their perspective, it’s only a matter of time before he’s as dominant as he was earlier this season, and through the second half of 2015.
There were a lot of 93s. I think he hit 95 once or twice. But he’s not complaining of being tired or anything bothering him physically. He wanted to throttle back a little bit. He was more concerned with placement as opposed to overpowering hitters. Even when he’s not on, its going to be less hits given up, purely based on movement. His ball moves unlike anyone else. His weaponry is unbelievably good. His fastball command has been off from my perspective. It’s in there, I really believe it’s in there.
As for Arrieta himself? He doesn’t seem worried:
I’m not concerned with it. Just need to find that comfort with the sinker in the strike zone, first pitch. After that, it opens up a lot of doors. We’re working on it.
Based on record and almost every possible metric, the Cubs are the best team in Baseball this season, and favorites to win the World Series, breaking the longest curse in sports. However, if Arrieta is indeed suddenly struggling with dominating hitters like before, that’s a serious hit to take in a category the Cubs felt extremely confident about all through the season, and might be even causing them some doubts as we get closer to October, even if they’re not showing it.