Chicago Cubs welcome Philadelphia Phillies to town in anticipated series

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /
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Right-hander Jake Arrieta makes his return to Wrigley Field, facing the man the Chicago Cubs chose to replace him, oft-struggling right-hander Yu Darvish.

There are few Chicago Cubs players from recent years as beloved as Jake Arrieta. The 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner and 2016 World Series champion departed after the 2017 campaign, signing a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. On the North Side, Chicago tapped Yu Darvish as the heir apparent to the fan favorite.

On Monday night when the Phillies come to town, these two men will go head-to-head in Arrieta’s first start at Wrigley Field since walking off the mound after one last stellar outing in the 2017 NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. There’s little doubt he’ll receive some raucous cheers from those still in his corner – and, truth be told, he might get more love than the man taking the ball for the Cubs.

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"“I think he’s going to get a great reception, and he should, I mean, from the fans,” manager Joe Maddon told MLB.com. “What he did there was spectacular. He was that good. That one year was as special as I’ve ever witnessed, how well he pitched and how consistent he was all season.”"

Of course, Maddon is referring to that special 2015 campaign, when Arrieta turned in one of the most historic second halves in baseball history. The Cubs hurler lost just once in 15 starts after the All-Star Break, allowing a mere nine earned runs in 107 1/3 innings of work. He notched 113 strikeouts to only 23 base-on-balls, en route to a 0.727 WHIP.

It’s hard to really put how good Arrieta was that year into words. Dominant doesn’t even come close. When he took the ball, it looked like a backyard game of whiffle ball with how much he would move the ball corner to corner against big leaguers. For any fans, 2015 marked the dawn of a new era – one that was brought on by the dominance of Arrieta.

In stark contrast, Yu Darvish is yet to put together a string of consistency in his year-plus in Chicago. He made only eight starts last season before the Cubs shut him down due to injury. Even when he was on the bump, he was ineffective and wild – leaving a gaping hole in the rotation – a hole later filled by the team’s acquisition of Cole Hamels.

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His last time out, Darvish pitched into the sixth, striking out 11. The bullpen cost him a win in the late innings, but it was one of his more memorable starts in a Chicago Cubs uniform. On Monday, he’ll have a chance to help us all turn the page with a strong start against Arrieta and the first-place Phillies.

"“If I try to show something, I always go back [to struggling],” he said. “So I just want to be myself. He’s a legend in Chicago, for sure, so I respect that. I’m really looking forward to facing him.”"

The debate rages on to this day. Did the Cubs make a fatal mistake in letting Arrieta walk two years ago? The jury is still out, but one thing is for sure – all eyes will be on this primetime pitching matchup and heavy judgment will be doled out based on how it plays out.

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