CHICAGO – There was a whole lot of important action going on Saturday night at Wrigley Field, and it all has a bearing on the second half of the season for the Cubs.
First the good news for the Cubs: Young players Ian Happ and Kyle Schwarber hit back-to-back opposite-field home runs in the fourth inning, temporarily putting the Cubs into the lead at 2-1 over the Pittsburgh Pirates. Schwarber, who earlier in the day did some hitting drills on the field, also had an opposite-field single to left in the second inning and a walk in the seventh.
On the mound, it was a different story in the Cubs’ eventual 4-2 loss. One-time ace Jake Arrieta worked 52⁄3 innings, giving up six hits and four runs (three earned) as his ERA rose from 4.33 to 4.35.
Arrieta threw 107 pitches, and he ran into big trouble in the sixth, when he gave up a double to Josh Bell, a two-run homer to Gregory Polanco a single to Francisco Cervelli and an RBI double to Jordy Mercer.
Manager Joe Maddon was asked what a good start could do for Arrieta going into the post-All-Star-break part of the season.
“It could be a very positive moment for him and absolutely could only help leading into the second half,” he said. “What does that mean? For me it doesn’t mean he has to win the game. It just means to go out there and pitch consistently with command. To me, that would be success.”
Command has been spotty for Arrieta all year, and he had a pair of 23-pitch innings against the Pirates.
As for the offense, Maddon wants to see more consistency and more production with runners in scoring position.
Schwarber’s struggles have been well documented, and he is just up from a trip to the minor leagues to iron out his swing. What he has going for him is that he is a bright young player who is willing to learn and make the adjustments. The home run Saturday was his 13th of the season.
Happ also hit his 13th. He came up in May and has impressed – and even surprised – Maddon with his play and feel for the game.
“I didn’t know he was this good of an athlete,” Maddon said. “I think I mentioned that before. When I got to see him for the first time in spring training, I’m thinking I’m just seeing a hitter. I didn’t realize he ran that well. I wasn’t convinced about second-base play, but he’s proven me wrong. He’s done a lot better there than I thought he would.
“He’s a better baseball player than I had envisioned coming into this thing. I thought he was more of a bat. I think that’s how he was advertised coming up. But he’s a really skillful player, and he does a lot of things well. I didn’t even mention his arm. He’s got a great arm; he’s got a really good arm. Spring training exposed all those different thoughts to me. I did not know what he was all about.”