It was July 25 when Chicago Cubs ace Jake Arrieta last tasted defeat. The St. Louis Cardinals must end the right-hander’s 11-game winning streak Monday to avoid staring into the face of elimination in the National League Division Series.
The NLDS moves to Wrigley Field in Chicago for Game 3 after the teams split in St. Louis. The Cardinals won Game 1 on Friday 4-0; the Cubs took Game 2 on Saturday 6-3.
Michael Wacha (17-7, 3.38 ERA), who had a 7.88 ERA in five September starts and was 1-2 with a 6.86 ERA against the Cubs, will oppose Arrieta (22-6, 1.77 ERA). During his winning streak, Arrieta has a 0.41 ERA in 88 1/3 innings.
Game time will be 5:07 p.m.
“I had a couple rough ones (against the Cubs) lately, but I’ve just got to go out there and trust in my stuff and let my defense play behind me,” Wacha said. “We’ve got a great defense and they’ve got a tough lineup. They’re going to be battling. They’re going to be putting together great at-bats. I’ve got to stick with my stuff and continue going after them.
“I’m excited for this opportunity this year, being a part of this amazing team and looking forward to seeing what we can do in this postseason. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to go out there and perform and compete for this team.”
The Cardinals have shown a propensity for beating elite pitchers. They have dominated the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw in the postseason, beating him twice in the NLDS last year and twice in the NL Championship Series in 2013.
St. Louis also defeated Jon Lester to win Game 1 on Friday.
“I think there’s something to be said about that,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “We’ve gone up against a number of teams and a number of pitchers where everybody kind of ruled us out and said, ‘You can’t do this or that,’ and I think this team has responded well in the past. Yeah, it’s something to have kind of in the archives, but that doesn’t necessarily automatically turn into any kind of production.”
After all, Matheny said, Arrieta has been pitching at an otherworldly level.
“We understand there’s a pitcher on their side that’s been throwing the ball very well, and we need to just come out and do what we do,” Matheny said.
Arrieta said pitching a playoff game at Wrigley Field will be memorable.
“I think I’m confident in my ability to go out there (Monday) and give us an outing that’s good enough to win the game,” Arrieta said. “Obviously, on their side, you know, Wacha has got the ability to be pretty darned good on the mound himself. I just intend to keep us in the game, regardless of the circumstances, whatever comes up. But I like my chances to go out there and win us a ballgame.”
Cubs manager Joe Maddon marvels at Arrieta’s effectiveness, but understands there are no certainties in baseball.
“I don’t take anything for granted,” Maddon said. “I don’t think any of us do. I hope not. The other teams are really good. The team we’re playing (Monday) is very good. So you can’t assume anything. You don’t take anything for granted. You rely on the work of your guys. You trust your guys. That’s what it comes down to is trust, and I’ll tell myself that in the dugout, just stay back, watch it and trust your guys. At the end of the day, a lot of it is about that.
“I know the work (Arrieta) has done. I know he’s ready for (Monday). Of course, you’re wanting good to happen, but regardless, you know that Jake is prepared.”
Containing Bryant, Rizzo
Cubs rookie third baseman Kris Bryant (0-for-11) and first baseman Anthony Rizzo (0-for-10) are a combined 0-for-21 in three postseason games, including a 4-0 wild-card win over Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
If the Cardinals are going to win the series, that’s a trend that will have to continue.
“A couple good hitters that you’re talking about,” Matheny said. “We know they’re going to get theirs if we make too many mistakes, and so far guys have made good pitches against them.”
The Cardinals also need to get better production from their key hitters. Matt Carpenter, Matt Holliday, Jhonny Peralta and Yadier Molina are a combined 3-for-28 with two RBIs in the first two games of the series.
Managing at Wrigley
More than any other ballpark, Wrigley Field plays according to the weather. If the wind is blowing out, no amount of runs are enough. If it’s blowing in, it’s a pitcher’s paradise.
Matheny is prepared for any condition.
“I think you always have to be conscious of what the wind is doing,” he said. “I think we’re always conscious, too, that things can happen here at any point in the game. We just kind of talk to our guys to stay the course, and that kind of goes hand in hand with how those flags are blowing. They’re blowing out, anything can happen, and no lead seems like it’s enough.
“There have been many games that we’ve had here, even with the wind pretty still, there’s just crazy things that can happen at any point, and especially at the end of the game. So we just continue to tell our guys keep the throttle down, keep playing the game, and don’t take anything for granted on the positive side or on the negative side because you know if you stay the course you’ve got a chance to finish this thing.”