By Bruce Levine–

CHICAGO (CBS) — Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta threw the gauntlet down Wednesday evening after his team beat the White Sox to win for the 10th time in 12 games and take over first place in the NL Central.

Or was he going out on a baseball limb of gigantic proportions?

“We are feeling it,” Arrieta said. “We were in this clubhouse last year at roughly the same time. It is no different. We expect to stay in first place throughout the remainder of the way. We know it will be a tough task. That is kind of what you deal with at the highest level of sports. We feel like we have the group to separate ourselves at this point and time and remain in first place the remainder of the way.”

You’ve got to love the Arrieta confidence. At the same time, you must realize the rest of the division now has the bulletin board material to push its clubhouse mentality toward an extra effort to beat the defending champion Cubs.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon warns of the trappings of statements that declare victory in July with 62 games left in the season. He prefers his own mantra.

“One day at a time,” he said. “We happen to be in first place now. We have to take care of the White Sox tonight. Then we try and play the Brewers well tomorrow night. It is about consecutive, one-game winning streaks as often as you can do that.”

Maddon knows tough talk really is only good enough when you can back it up over a 162-game schedule. Injuries, slumps and other good teams can humble you in a matter of a few games if you start feeling yourself too early and too often.

“I get where Jake is coming from,” Maddon said. “From my perspective, I can only focus on tonight’s game. I really want us to attack the night only.”

Arrieta has been a big part of a Cubs team that has won 253 regular-season games games since the start of 2015. And Maddon is a grizzled veteran who has seen it all in his 45 years of professional baseball.

“You have to be very careful about what you say,” Maddon cautioned. “There is baseball karma out there that can come back and bite you. Don’t forget, look where the Pirates and Cardinals are right now. They are both doing better. This division, which looked to be weak in the beginning, appears to be strong again.

“I don’t take anything for granted, man. My experience tells me not to do that. If you start to get full of yourself for believing whatever, it can go away very quickly. Nothing wrong with saying you feel good about where the team is. But when you start getting full of yourself and thinking it is going to come easily, that is the trap.”

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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