CHICAGO -- All indications point to major changes coming to Wrigley Field in 2015.
It’s not just the addition of a JumboTron, revenue-building advertisements and other additions to the 100-year-old ballpark. The actual product on the field might have some legit expectations heading into next season.
Performances like Jake Arrieta’s on Wednesday night only reinforce such optimism.
After seeing Arrieta toss seven innings of one-run ball (unearned) on two hits while striking out 10 and walking just one in a 3-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria had nothing but praise for the emerging star.
"He's our ace," Renteria said. "He's been pitching pretty much like an ace, obviously. He's got that kind of stuff. He’s been carrying us deep into ballgames. Typically, an ace has both those qualities: carrying you deep and having stuff. He’s been able to do that."
Renteria is not one prone to hyperbole, and the term "ace" does get thrown around too liberally at times, but, with the season Arrieta just delivered, he's getting very close to earning the title.
After missing all of April with shoulder discomfort, the big righty delivered 156⅔ innings with a 2.53 ERA, miniscule 0.99 WHIP and impressive 27.2 percent strikeout rate, all while walking just 6.7 percent of batters he faced.
Those are ace numbers.
Add in another month's worth of innings and those are Cy Young-type numbers.
With an exciting group of offensive talent slowly filtering into Wrigley and money to spend to reinforce a pitching staff, it's understandable people are starting to believe good things might finally start happening for the North Siders once again.
Arrieta closed out the final game at Wrigley Field as we know it, but it's quite possible that next April Arrieta will open things up for the Cubs in front of a brand new JumboTron and a big Budweiser sign, as the Cubs hope to usher in a new era of baseball.
"I think that’s a possibility," Arrieta said when asked if he could start next Opening Day. "It's really something that will unfold as that time approaches. I anticipate things happening this offseason. Obviously the direction we're moving is a positive one. We've got a lot of good things going on here, and those things will continue to build and progress into more of a winning atmosphere overall.
"And that just comes with player development and maturity, with everybody. Even the older guys, including myself, can continue to grow. [Starting Opening Day is] potentially in the cards but not necessarily something I put a lot of focus on."
What Arrieta is paying close attention to is the abundance of talented youth on the roster. As someone who had been labeled a super-prospect, then quickly cast aside as a bust, Arrieta feels he has some knowledge to bestow upon the Cubbie Kids.
"I feel like I can help myself moving forward, but also my teammates, the younger guys," Arrieta said. "They're going to be in positions where they can help this team in many ways.
"And I feel like I can be a resource for them to maybe lean on from time to time for whatever the questions they might have. Try and give them some answers and try and make the transition to this level a little bit easier."
Arrieta has already emerged as a dominant force on the field. Taking the mantle as a leader in the clubhouse is, as team president Theo Epstein likes to say, just another box to check. No, that's not the gleam from the HD screen out in left field; it's a future laden with elite talent that's making things so bright at Wrigley Field.