Watching Jake Arrieta pitch seems akin to what watching Elvis Presley in concert in the late 1970s must have felt like.
Another short, disastrous outing put the Cubs behind early Tuesday against the Phillies at Wrigley Field, and they went on to lose 15-10, extending their losing streak to 11.
Arrieta put the Cubs in a hole after only four batters. Within his first 10 pitches, he gave up four runs. Jean Segura roped a ground-rule double on the first pitch, Arrieta plunked J.T. Realmuto, Bryce Harper singled and Andrew McCutchen cleared the bases with a grand slam to center. It marked the first time this season a team had its first four batters of a game score on a grand slam.
“I know he wants to be better,” manager David Ross said before the game. “He wants to be the guy that goes six, seven, eight innings and be a reliable starter that can give us real length. I know that’s what he’s trying to do every time he steps foot on that mound.”
Instead, in back-to-back starts, Arrieta has not been able to get past the second inning. He left Tuesday’s game after recording just five outs. Arrieta was lifted with two runners in scoring position after surrendering seven runs.
Arrieta’s struggles are a piece of what’s gone wrong as the Cubs’ slide stretches into July. Three more losses and they will tie the record set in the first 14 games of the 1997 season, and the other parts of the team aren’t looking apt to stop the current cold spell. Joc Pederson’s error in left in the second inning set up three more of the Phillies runs when center fielder Ian Happ took a bad read and couldn’t make the catch on Rhys Hoskins’ fly ball.
“When you’re competing at the level we compete at, nobody likes to lose,” Ross said. “It’s not fun to lose.”
Cubs starters had collectively pitched 419 innings before Arrieta’s start Tuesday, putting them in the bottom third of baseball. Not having the rotation able to go deep into games has pushed the once-vaunted bullpen into rough territory. Through June 20, Cubs relievers had a league-best 2.63 ERA, but in the weeks since then, they’ve posted a league-worst 7.05.
The Cubs bats were alive Tuesday — they scored at least nine runs for the first time since May 29 against the Reds, including Javy Baez’s tenth career multi-homer game. Take away the seven runs Arrieta allowed, and that’s enough to win.
During this losing streak, Ross said he has resisted the temptation to stray from his routine, and he said his players are doing the same. A Joe Maddon-inspired costume road trip to lighten the mood and loosen Ross’s guys up is not on the way.
“You don’t want to get gimmicky and start to be fake and try to create a false fun atmosphere,” Ross said. “These guys are here to work. Here to win baseball games. That’s when the fun happens — the fun happens when they get a packed house here and we get to hear ‘Go, Cubs, Go’ at the end of a game.”
While the losses are piling up and the course of the second half of the season likely moving in a different direction from how things looked a couple of weeks ago, Ross insists that the mood in his clubhouse isn’t shifting with it.
“When you come out and you give your best on a daily basis, that’s really all you have control over,” Ross said. “It’s not gonna make anything any better by having a bad attitude or moping around. You’ve got to put your big boy pants on and be professionals.
“They’ve been around winning for a long time and I think they understand that it’s a really long season and it’s a tough stretch and nobody likes to go through it. But you’re not going to get out of it hanging your head.”