Ryan Says: Arrieta Great Again, Bullpen Not So Much, A Special Thank You

Just when I think the Cubs are going to run away with the NL Central, the Brewers and Cardinals – yes, even the Cardinals – make me think it’s going to be a photo finish in September. The good news? Milwaukee has more games against contenders left on the schedule, including a three-game series in Los Angeles against the Dodgers and a four-game home set with the Nationals that takes us right into the final month of the regular season.

If the Cubs haven’t built up a decent cushion – let’s say, 4-6 games of space – by the end of the first week of September, be prepared to start biting your nails.

• Let’s give it up for Jake Arrieta. After a shaky second half of 2016 mixed with a brutal start to the 2017 campaign, the former Cy Young winner has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over his last 15 starts. Since mid-May, he has thrown 89 1/3 innings with 68 hits allowed, 10 home runs, 29 walks, 80 strikeouts, and a 3.02 ERA.

That latter mark has him 10th-best in Major League Baseball during the same period, in the same class as Chris Sale and Zack Greinke. Any conversation about Arrieta accepting a one-year deal with the Cubs in the offseason to recoup value for the 2018 free agent market has been completely wiped out by his recent performance. Yu Darvish will be the best available free agent starter, but you could easily make the case that Arrieta is the second-best among a group that also features Lance Lynn, Matt Garza, and C.C. Sabathia.

The issue for the Cubs will be how they replace Arrieta’s production in the offseason. Acquiring Jose Quintana helps the long-term outlook quite a bit, but right now the 2018 rotation is just Quintana, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, and two question marks. Expect the Cubs to scour the bargain bin to fill one spot, looking at guys like Jhoulys Chacin, Alex Cobb, and old friend Scott Feldman.

• The Cubs have basically been a completely opposite team from the first half of the season to the second half. They have raised their OPS from .744 to .830 at the plate, while raising their scoring average from 4.5 runs per game to 5.4 runs per game. The starting pitchers have gone from a 4.66 ERA to a 3.15 ERA.

So that’s all good stuff, but there is one negative. The Cubs’ bullpen was excellent in the first half, posting a 3.26 ERA with 9.8 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 in 312 innings as a unit. But in the second half, the ERA has ballooned to 4.32 with 10.5 K/9 and an ugly 5.0 BB/9.

Even worse? The biggest offenders have been Carl Edwards Jr. (8.71 ERA with 11 walks in 10 1/3 innings) and Wade Davis (4.00 ERA with eight walks in nine innings). Your two best relievers forgetting how to throw strikes can make a good team look really bad in a hurry, and the Cubs are just 2-5 in their last seven games.

• To anyone who donated or was able to make it out to the event at Nisei Lounge last Friday night to honor John Arguello, thank you. The $5,000 goal was easily exceeded ($8,440 as of right now) and will be donated to Jon Lester’s Never Quit (NVRQT) charity, which raises money for pediatric cancer research. Lester donated a pair of his cleats that had been worn and signed by John Lackey, and they were auctioned off to raise an additional $1,000.

A special thanks to Julie DiCaro, Jared Wyllys, and Myles Phelps for organizing the event and to Stacey Arguello, who made the trip up from Arizona to meet and chat with so many of us who held her husband in such high esteem.

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