By Bruce Levine–
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS) — This Monday night belongs to Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta.
An 18-game winner in the regular season and the reigning NL Cy Young winner, Arrieta has the opportunity to close out the National League Divisional Series when the Cubs, leading 2-0, face ace Madison Bumgarner and the Giants in Game 3.
Arrieta he dreamed of pitching in big games since he was a little kid and did just that on several occasions in 2015, including throwing a shutout in the NL wild-card game. That experience should give Arrieta a boost Monday night
“You think about this a lot,” Arrieta said. “As a kid, you put yourself in those situations. Bases loaded, two outs, you’re at the plate or on the mound. That was the way I envisioned it as a kid. You are playing wiffle ball and daydreaming about situations like this in Little League. Now a moment like that is here, for myself and us as a team again.”
All season long, Arrieta has fought through comparisons of his 2015 self. While he’s a great choice to turn to in a close-out game, Arrieta has been overanalyzed all season, and some fans seem less confident in him nowadays.
For his part, Arrieta has embraced this moment and the chance to continue to prove he’s a big-game pitcher.
“This is something you want to embrace, relish and enjoy as much as you can,” he said. “This is the reason you play the long season, to get to this moment and have these opportunities. You move forward accordingly and try to take care of business.”
A subplot in Monday’s match is that both starting pitchers are quality hitters. Bumgarner has won two Silver Slugger awards for being the top hitting pitcher, and he pinch-hit in Game 2 on Saturday, reaching on an error. Arrieta hit .262 with two homers and seven RBIs in the regular season and has a strong case to win the Silver Slugger this year.
So there will be no breaks in the lineup Monday. A couple Giants have had success against Arrieta too, with Angel Pagan batting .455 against him and Joe Panik hitting .400.
“He is one of those guys you treat just like a position player,” Arrieta said of Bumgarner. “Obviously he can swing the bat. He has done that throughout his career in the National League. You really have to approach him just like anyone of the other eight guys.”
The matchup of two top pitchers should bring out the best in both teams, including Arrieta.
“Last year is indicative of what Jake is all about,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “This year everyone has overanalyzed what he did last year. He has had a great season. Maybe not as great as last year was, but it’s hard to replicate that. I don’t think he is cowered by any situation. This year has been outstanding.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.