SAN FRANCISCO — No matter whose side you’re on, whether you bleed Cubbie blue or bleed whatever a Giants fan bleeds (Ghirardelli chocolate?), you might want to take a moment to appreciate what is about to take place here.
Yes, the Cubs are on the verge of sweeping a playoff series for the first time in what seems like recorded human history, and, yes, the Giants are talking about winning three straight games to take this best-of-five National League Division Series, mostly because they’ve pulled that rabbit out of a baseball cap before.
But along with all the drama, two of the biggest big-name pitchers will take the mound for their respective teams in Game 3 Monday night. Jake Arrieta, last season’s Cy Young Award winner, will pitch for the Cubs, and Madison Bumgarner, who seems to take cruel pleasure in squeezing the life out of playoff opponents, for the Giants. Two alphas, two cowboys, two baseball carnivores, though with a shot of kale juice thrown in for the health-conscious Arrieta.
Pretty good, no?
A Cubs fan can hope that Arrieta will channel his 2015 self and reduce the Giants’ batting order, already charred, to ashes. A baseball fan can hope that both pitchers bring their best games, the way the Cubs’ Jon Lester and the Giants’ Johnny Cueto did in Game 1, a 1-0 Cubs’ victory. It’s probably safe to say that Cubs fans don’t give a whit about what baseball fans want.
But if pitching paradise is to be found, it probably is more on Arrieta to make it happen than Bumgarner. Arrieta hasn’t been himself this season, or at least he hasn’t been amazing, which he was last season. Since the beginning of July, he’s 6-6. In September, he went 2-3 with a 4.60 earned-run average, and hitters combined for a .248 batting average, the highest of any month against him. The nickname “Scarrieta’’ has found its way into common usage in Chicago, though, I’m guessing, not in his presence.
It has been a choppy ride for Arrieta, though for all the choppiness, he still went 18-8 with a 3.10 earned-run average. He was 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA last season. Some fans have paid more attention to Arrieta’s throwing motion than to their children’s needs, but as those people like to say, that’s what the offseason is for.
“He’s another guy I’ll take any day of the week,’’ catcher David Ross said. “I know his character. I know what he’s thinking and what kind of guts he has. I really like our chances when he’s on the mound.’’
Arrieta has at least one thing going for him: the Giants’ bats apparently are allergic to hits. As a team, they’re hitting .183 in the NLDS. The Cubs, at .200, aren’t much better.
Arrieta gets a chance to close out a series and remind everyone how good he is.
“As a kid, you put yourself in those positions,’’ he said Sunday. “Bases loaded, two outs, you’re at the plate. That’s kind of the way I envision it as a kid playing whiffle ball or whatever the case was. Just kind of day dreaming about situations like this in Little League and now a moment like that is here for myself and for us as a team once again.’’
Bumgarner was very good in the regular season, but he was great in the wild-card game against the Mets, giving up four hits and no runs in a complete-game victory. In his last nine postseason appearances, he’s 8-1 with a 0.79 ERA. That’s the Cubs’ problem. How do you get to a pitcher who thinks of the playoffs as his private property?
“He’s really good,’’ Arrieta said, “but he’s beatable.’’
Enjoy this duel. OK, at least try to enjoy it, Cubs fans.