LOS ANGELES -- Jake Arrieta was fine. He was throwing the ball well. His stuff was really solid. No, it wasn’t vintage Cy Young Arrieta on display in the Chicago Cubs' 6-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Tuesday’s Game 3 of the NLCS, but it was a version that, over the course of the season, is going to win a lot of games.
The problem -- and it’s one Arrieta shares with all the Cubs’ starters right now -- was summed up by his catcher, Miguel Montero.
“Jake was pretty good,” Montero said. “It’s hard to go up there and pitch when the team is not scoring. You try to be perfect. You try to not make any mistakes.”
That’s why most of the NLCS headlines, from a Cubs perspective, are centering on the complete lack of production from the offense. Two games and zero runs. For a pitcher, it doesn’t get any tougher than that.
“It happens,” Arrieta said. “It’s not ideal to happen in the postseason, in these sort of games. These things are possible at any moment in any game. Our guys are prepared. Our guys are ready, doing everything they can to prepare. When a guy makes good pitches like [Dodgers starter] Rich [Hill] did, along with their bullpen, it’s going to be tough on us.”
Arrieta gave up four runs in five innings and departed after giving up a solo homer to Justin Turner to lead off the sixth. He struck out five and didn’t walk anyone -- a fact that would have attracted a lot of attention in a different context. For Arrieta, who has battled inconsistency with his command the past couple months, it wasn’t the walks that got him. It was the long ball.
Arrieta’s walk-free outing was a true rarity. It was just his second of the season and the first since way back on April 10. But he allowed two home runs, the first a two-run shot to previously struggling Yasmani Grandal, which put the Dodgers up 3-0, and the other to Turner. Arrieta allowed multiple homers in just four starts this season, most recently on Aug. 29, and he never gave up three.
“I thought Jake was throwing the ball well,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I really did. [Grandal’s homer] kind of surprised me at that particular juncture.”
“He was looking for a fastball there, obviously, 3-2 count,” Arrieta said. “I felt like I executed pretty well. Sometimes, those guys capitalize and are going to beat you in situations. It wasn’t ideal from my perspective, but I’d probably make that pitch nine out of 10 times and be OK with it.”
There is that tough spot the pitchers are in, which Game 4 starter John Lackey will discover Wednesday if the offense doesn’t get going. Good stuff doesn’t always equal good results. That’s baseball. A common Lackey refrain is, “The others guys are good too.” That is a sentiment Arrieta echoed after Tuesday’s game.
“They fouled a lot of great pitches in two-strike counts to get to the next pitch,” Arrieta said. “They hit some really good pitches. Sometimes good hitters hit good pitches.”
When they do that, everything is magnified by the string of goose eggs that comprise your own team’s line score. Arrieta could revert to the Walter Johnson/Bob Gibson combination he was a year ago, and even if he throws a shutout, the Cubs are going to have to score somewhere along the line in order to win.
“You know, if you give up one run, that can be it,” Montero said. “It’s hard to pitch like that. It’s hard to catch like that. It’s hard to call a game like that. But he had good stuff today. He had some of the best stuff maybe all year, to be honest.”
That sums it up. You can break the game down to its component parts and pick apart the starter’s pitch selection or the positioning of an outfielder or a manager’s lineup choice, and in the end, if your offense is a cipher, none of the rest matters. You can’t win with zero.
If the Cubs don’t put up some crooked numbers soon, Arrieta’s outing Tuesday might have been his last of the season -- not that he thinks it will be.
“I like our chances,” he said. “Any time you have a ball club like we do, with guys who have a lot of postseason experience, Lackey tomorrow, you feel good about it.
“I’ll pitch again. If I’m needed, game is on the line, I’ll be there tomorrow, the next day, whenever."