Chicago Cubs: Jake Arrieta, home dominance key for Game 3
By Jake Misener
Jake Arrieta and the Chicago Cubs’ strong performance at Wrigley Field will both be major keys as the team seeks a bid to the National League Championship Series.
Three days ago, you’d have sworn the Cubs were headed for the wrong end of a three-game sweep at the hands of their heated division rivals. Saturday night was an entirely different story, of course, as Jorge Soler and outstanding relief work led Chicago to a win in Game 2, evening the series at one game apiece.
So what’s next?
After Sunday’s off-day, the Cubs are poised to play their first postseason game at Wrigley Field since 2008; and if the atmosphere in Wrigleyville while the team was on the road was any indication, Cubs Nation is ready to bring the house down.
Chicago utilized small-ball and several St. Louis miscues to bring home a statement win at Busch Stadium Saturday, but the team’s road to success at home could look quite different come first pitch tonight.
During the regular season, the Cubs were just as good on the road as they were at the Friendly Confines – posting a .605 winning percentage at home and a .593 mark away. That being said, Chicago finished the season on a very high note, going 42-18 from Aug. 1 on.
Arrieta, meanwhile, pitched to a 1.97 ERA at home during the regular season and was actually worse there than when the team donned their visiting grey uniforms. His WHIP was improved at Wrigley (0.857 to 0.871) as opposed to his road starts, but what matters most is the work he turned in during the second-half.
As we all know by now, the team’s right-handed ace posted the lowest second-half earned run average in Major League history, and, in the month of September, he really kicked it up a notch, pitching seven, eight and nine innings, respectively, in his three final home starts of the year.
The offense, which, at times, looked weak and haphazard in the first two games of the series with the Cardinals last weekend, will need to get back on-track to help stake their hard-throwing stud to an early advantage.
The biggest key for the team will be the re-emergence of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo – both of whom have struggled badly so far this postseason after leading the team at the dish over the course of the campaign.
Bryant, who is poised to earn NL Rookie of the Year honors, is yet to record his first postseason base knock, and currently sits at 0-for-11 between the Wild Card game and NLDS action. He’s made several key defensive plays at third and will no-doubt be in the lineup for Game 3, but he’ll need to get on-track offensively, which shouldn’t be an issue given his exploits at home this season.
The rookie slugger saw his OPS skyrocket at Wrigley Field, coming in at a mark over 1.000. His road marks, by contrast, were much less ideal, batting .243/.333/.360 on the road – hitting just five of his 26 long-balls away from Chicago.
Rizzo is just 1-for-11 and has not drawn a walk yet this postseason, a troubling sign for a player who posted a career-high .387 OBP in 160 games this year. When Rizzo is working the count and drawing base-on-balls, he changes the Cubs’ dynamic – and if he gets back on-track, the team will become endlessly more dangerous.
With the home faithful at their backs, the Chicago Cubs will look to take a 2-1 edge in the series on Monday evening at Wrigley Field behind Jake Arrieta. Don’t be surprised if you see some fireworks from Bryant and Rizzo either, with the team just two wins from their first NLCS since 2003.