WARR baseball writer Kevin Luchansky writes about the Cubs and the White Sox weekly for WARR.com.
Check out Kevin’s daily baseball betting picks on NorthSideWire.
Jake Arrieta, the Chicago Cubs’ fresh-faced pitcher, was nine outs away from writing a significant chapter of history for himself and his team, but it just wasn’t meant to be.
The 28-year-old right-hander was brilliant against the Cincinnati Reds earlier this week, carrying a perfect game into the top of seventh inning before Billy Hamilton ended it with a clean single up the middle. In their entire history, no Cubs pitcher has ever pitched a perfect game.
For the time being, that record still stands, but Arrieta was in such a groove his first two times through the Reds order that it felt within reach Tuesday night.
The former 5th-round draft pick and top prospect of the Orioles system had everything in his repertoire going for him against the division rival Reds, striking out nine of the 24 batters he faced while allowing just three hits, all coming in the seventh inning. The strikeouts were coming on a mixed variety of pitches, but it was clear — even from my seat on my couch — that his pitch movement was far better than it had been at any point this year.
Arrieta froze opponents with fastballs and breaking pitches and didnt mind if you went down looking or swinging. His fastball sat right around 93.5 miles per hour for the night, and his cutter, which he threw nearly as often as his fastball, was just a shade under 90 at 89.9 for the evening.
Overall this season, Arrieta has really provided some value for the club, especially when you consider he is under contract this season with a salary of just $500,000. Through 10 starts, Arrieta has a strikeouts per nine innings mark of 10.11 and a walk rate of just 2.3, his ERA is a shiny 2.05. Those numbers are well above his career averages, and the last I checked, that strikeout per nine innings mark puts Arrieta only behind Max Scherzer, David Price, Stephen Strasburg and Yu Darvish. That’s some elite company as we head to July.
Rizzo, Castro Solid In Middle of Order
As the Cubs straddle the .500 line over the month of June, they have Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro to thank for much of the offensive production. Over the past seven days, the two middle of the order cogs have combined for four home runs, 13 driven in and 10 runs scored. Though Castro’s average in that time — .240 — doesn’t suggest he is raking in runs the way he is capable of, Rizzo’s .407 average certainly reflects his high production. The home runs this week put Rizzo in a tie for 10th overall in the majors with 17 bombs.
Schierholtz’s Slide is Significant
On the flip side of all this is the mightily struggling Nate Schierholtz. Once thought to be a guy the front office execs could flip for prospects at the trade deadline, Schierholtz has done anything but convince teams in the hunt that he’s worthy of acquiring as of late.
Unfortunately for the Cubs, Schierholtz’s regression this season has been significant in several categories. Nate finished 2013 with a respectable .252 average and collected 21 bombs along the way, giving reason to believe he could build on that this season and be the guy Theo Epstein and Co. flips at the trade deadline for a Double-A or higher pitching prospect that they covet. This season, the average is a lowly .199 and with not a whole lot of power to go with it at just three home runs and 27 driven in.
Schierholtz’s wins above replacement measured out to a 1.7 rating in 2013, his highest ever at the MLB level. This season? Try -0.6. Unless someone is desperate or sees something in Schierholtz that they think they can tweak, it looks as though the Cubs are stuck with his poor production and $5 million contract for the rest of the year. The Cubs can live with the low production, but not being able to flip him is a bit of a bruise on the Theo regime.