ST. LOUIS – Maybe the 10-game homestand that starts Tuesday is what the Cubs need.
Maybe a few more hitters get healthy, and the weather will start to warm the bats up.
Maybe the final three scoreless innings of Jake Arrieta’s start Sunday is a sign of what’s to come from the struggling starter – and one of the most important players to the Cubs’ success this year.
The only thing for sure is that six weeks into their championship defense, there are a lot more maybes than certainties surrounding the potential of this Cubs season after a 5-0 loss to the Cardinals Sunday left them with a losing record and their fourth series loss in their past five series.
“We would obviously like to be playing better than we are right now,” said Arrieta, who gave up two-run homers to Yadier Molina in the second and Matt Carpenter in the third. “I don’t think there’s any reason to panic. I think that the talent we have here will correct itself and start to turn itself around.
“Yeah, we’d like to win a few more games than we are and tighten things up a little bit,” he added. “But guys are showing up ready to play and going about themselves the right way. We’re just not necessarily getting the results we’d like.”
Both Arrieta and manager Joe Maddon said Arrieta (4-3) had his best stuff of the season Sunday, and Maddon said he noticed a return of some of his missing velocity on an 83-degree day.
But the 91-to-93-mph fastball was still off his typical past velocity. And while he threw a lot of strikes, seven of them were struck for hits, including the seventh and eighth homers he has allowed this season – already halfway to last year’s season total.
“Some bad luck, some just mistakes that they’re taking advantage of,” he said of the homers. “Right now it seems like the mistakes I’m making they’re fouling off or taking or swinging and missing. They’re making pretty solid contact. I’ll continue to be aggressive.”
Arrieta, who’s ERA crept up to a season-high 5.44 Sunday, is confident he’ll return to the kind of form that won 18 games for the Cubs last year, along with two more big games on the road in the World Series.
Maddon sounds even more confident the key figure in the Cubs’ rotation – and, by extension, their playoff plans – will soon wind up on a lengthy run of success.
“I don’t get off a bandwagon very easily,” Maddon said. “I really believe he’s going to be fine. I believe it’s just going to be almost like a snap of the fingers; everything’s going to fall back in place. Just something’s going to click, and he’s going to be back close to where he had been.
“Velocity’s probably the biggest [thing]. When you start seeing that perk back up and seeing the called strikes and being able to pitch in the strike zone with misses, that’s when you’re going to see him really take off again.”
For now, he’ll build off Sunday’s 85-pitch efficiency and look to break from a six-start stretch in which he has just one quality start.
And the Cubs – who on this day were without Kris Bryant (stomach bug), Ben Zobrist (back) and Jason Heyward (finger) in the lineup – will look to heal up and rest up on Monday’s off day.
And then try to get even healthier against the Reds, Brewers and Giants at home.
The Cubs dropped under .500 for the first time since they were 6-7. They haven’t been more than one game under at any point.
“We’re all frustrated. Nobody wants to suck,” pitcher Jon Lester said after losing Saturday night. “But we’re grinding; we’re trying to figure out a way.”