The Rundown: Lester and Arrieta Flipped Again, Success Hasn’t Dulled Cubs’ Desire, Pagan Won’t Play in 2017

The Cubs announced Wednesday that they’d once again be flipping Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta in the rotation, which means the former won’t be pitching against the Red Sox after all. I had theorized around the time the original rotation was announced that Joe Maddon would probably tinker with things, both for matchups and for the “cool factor” of having Lester face his old team.

I put those quotes around that phrase for a reason, as it’s not a single meaning. Yes, it would be super neato to see one of Boston’s favorite sons returning to pitch at Fenway. But it’s also a matter of Lester being cool under pressure and being so incredibly consistent. That’s never a bad thing when you’re heading into a big series against another highly touted team.

Then again, the Cubs have experienced plenty of hype and have played pretty well in spite of it — with the exception of the first two World Series games at Wrigley — so perhaps Lester’s (usually) level-headed approach isn’t required.

Switching the two starters also means missing out on what would have been another cool, if somewhat esoteric, bit of relived history. Lester will take the bump Friday in Cincy on normal rest, while Arrieta goes Saturday the 22nd…a day after the one-year anniversary of his no-no in the Queen City. I’ll be honest with you, I never would have realized that unless I had been clued in to it. I’m guessing Arrieta couldn’t care less either.

Thinking back on Arrieta’s rise to prominence, however, one flashes back to the 2014 season and the show he put on in Boston. Though he’d been pretty good (3.66 ERA, 1.12 WHIP) the previous season after coming over from Baltimore, Arrieta really burst onto the scene after sitting out the month of April. He opened by pitching 5.1 shutout innings against the Cards at Wrigley and then turned it on in June.

The rising ace allowed only three earned runs in six starts that month, capped by a one-hit performance over 7.2 innings at Fenway. You know he’s going to relish the opportunity to take the bump on that Friday night in Boston in the midst of what should be a pretty electric atmosphere.

We never quit

Part of why I’ve continued to say that the 2015 season was actually more fun than last year is that the Cubs’ success was somewhat unexpected. They were supposed to be getting better, but their arrival as a legit power came a year earlier than pretty much everyone had predicted. And it wasn’t just that they were winning games, it was how they were winning them. That season was marked by 13 walk-off wins (videos of every one there), just an insane tally when it came to the fun quotient.

We saw last year that the team possessed that same ability to come back, though they usually did it in a different manner. The Cubs would often lie in wait like a big cat, stalking their prey and waiting until opponents got too tired or complacent. All of a sudden, the tables would turn as the Cubs hung crooked numbers and put the game out of reach. It’s been somewhat more tenuous in the early going this season, but the bats look like they’re starting to come to life again.

There was perhaps a fear that the fame and fortune of the World Series would have slaked the thirst that drove last year’s team to succeed, that having a bellyful of success would slow them down. Well, the last two games alone should be enough to debunk that nonsense. Previously reliant upon their rotation to grind out wins, the Cubs saw themselves fall into early holes against the Brewers both Tuesday and Wednesday.

After falling behind 0-5 in the earlier of those two games, the Cubs closed the game and rallied to hang 4 runs on Milwaukee in the 6th inning to take the lead. Then you had Kyle Hendricks serving up longballs and failing to find the zone consistently on Wednesday, putting his team in an early 1-4 hole. Then this happened…

Addison Russell will get the headlines, rightfully so, but I was incredibly impressed with the way Kris Bryant handled himself in his last two at-bats. As I wrote up in his Everyplayer summary for The Athletic app (which you should download on iOS or Android; you should also subscribe to the full site for 15% off), Bryant began by trying to hit for the infield pop-up cycle. Sitting on 0-for-3 and with his team down 4-2 in the 8th, you’d expect a slugger to try to slug.

Instead, the MVP took and took and fouled and took and fouled and took and fouled and took until he was standing on first with a leadoff walk. He would eventually come around to score, closing the gap to one. When he came up the following inning, he had two men on and a chance to win the game with one swing. Down 1-2 in the count, Bryant punched a single back up the middle to knot the score and set up Russell’s heroics.

This team does so many little things right that they can sometimes get lost in the face of all the big things they do right. But because they’re solid in pretty much every phase of the game, they’re never out of it. Maybe this season has a shot at being fun after all.

Pagan to sit out

Citing a desire to spend time with his family, former Cub Angel Pagan has said that he will not pursue a contract this season. Viewed as one of the top remaining free agents, Pagan performed well in the WBC and was said to have gotten several offers for both minor and major league deals. Though he’s not formally retiring, you have to wonder what the market will be in 2018 for a 36-year-old who hasn’t played in a year.

Pagan had reportedly agreed to a deal with the Orioles in March that was blown up by a failed physical, though the unknown issue didn’t keep him from playing for Puerto Rico the WBC. There’s no doubt he could have caught on with a minor league deal, which he’ll surely have to do next year if he chooses to come back, but you’d think someone would be willing to pay him at least the veteran’s minimum.

Either way, good on him for taking some time to step back from the game and reassess his health and desire.

More news and notes

  • David Price still hasn’t faced live hitters and plans to do so have been pushed back
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