By Nate Johnson
You would think that a week bookended by Kris Bryant’s walk-off home run against the Cleveland Indians getting front cover status from Sports Illustrated and Jake Arrieta’s 2-0 no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers would provide enough spark to boost even the most pessimistic Cubs fan’s hopes going into September. Unfortunately, a 2-4 road trip against the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants led fans to the ledge once more, adding the SI cover to the never-ending list of jinxes that have befallen the Northsiders over the years.
Even after a 13-6 drubbing at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds on Monday, which saw Chicago reliever Justin Grimm give up a pair of two-run homers en route to a 6-run Reds ninth inning, the Cubs sit 18 games over .500 and continue to lead for the second National League wild card spot by 5.5 games over the Giants with 32 games remaining in the season. The loss left the Cubs with a 19-9 record for the month of August, giving them a positive record in every month this year.
Arrieta’s sparkling performance on Sunday night, giving him a Major League-leading 17 wins, was the first no-hitter for the Cubs since Carlos Zambrano no-hit the Houston Astros in September of 2008. The righty struck out 12 Dodgers while allowing only two baserunners, one via walk and one on an error by second baseman Starlin Castro. One day later, Arrieta was honored with the National League Player of the Week award for the second time this season.
The west coast road trip against the Dodgers and the Giants saw a sudden power outage for the Cubs, who had led the National League in home runs since the All-Star break. The team mustered just over two runs per game in the six California games, punctuated by back-to-back one-run efforts against San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner and Los Angeles’s Clayton Kershaw, a combination no team wants to see heading into a playoff push.
This week sees the Cubs continue their three-game series with Cincinnati and hosting the Arizona Diamondbacks before heading to St. Louis for the first of two remaining three-game sets with the NL-leading Cardinals. There will be some new faces on the trip, as minor-leagues Javier Baez (IF), Quintin Berry (OF), Trevor Cahill (P) and Tsuyoshi Wada (P) have all joined the team with the September 1 roster expansion. In addition, outfielder Austin Jackson was acquired by the club on Monday and will be with the team for the rest of the Cincinnati series.