Column: Crucial trip for Chicago Cubs opens with LA Dodgers – Chicago Tribune

A four-game trip to Dodger Stadium beginning Thursday night brings back lots of memories for the Chicago Cubs, who went through the Los Angeles Dodgers on their way to their 2016 championship and experienced the beginning of the end for the core group following a loss to the Dodgers in the 2017 National League Championship Series.

Along with the celebrity sightings and former Dodgers outfielders Joc Pederson receiving his 2020 World series ring, here are three things to look for this weekend.

1. A win-or-weep start for Jake Arrieta?

Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta takes the mound in the third inning against the Marlins on Saturday at Wrigley Field.

Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta takes the mound in the third inning against the Marlins on Saturday at Wrigley Field. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)

The Cubs were ending a bad West Coast swing in August 2015 when they prepared to finish the trip with a Sunday night game at Dodger Stadium.

“Tomorrow’s a onesies road trip going back home, which is always spectacular,” manager Joe Maddon said. “So win or lose, it’s like having a win-or-weep dance — you still do it anyway. Win or weep: You have a party regardless of whether you win or lose.”

That night ended with Arrieta throwing his first no-hitter and memorably appearing at his postgame news conference in a onesie.

It’s fun to look back on a day that, perhaps more than any other, made Cubs fans believe the rebuild was going to work out after all. Six years later, Arrieta will take the mound Friday night hoping to prove to doubters he still belongs in the rotation.

Since posting a 2.57 ERA over his first five starts, Arrieta is 2-6 with a 7.58 ERA over his last nine.

Managing players who are friends is not easy, and David Ross soon might have to make the tough call of what to do if Arrieta doesn’t rebound soon.

Ross said benching Javier Báez for forgetting the number of outs Monday against the Cleveland Indians left him with a “pit in my stomach” the rest of the night.

“It doesn’t matter what player it is, (even) if it was Sergio Alcantara, I would still feel terrible, because it’s in the public eye,” Ross said Tuesday. “That’s something that is the hardest thing for me that I need to probably look at.

“I don’t want it to be so something that’s so public. I’ve done it two times now (including the benching of Kyle Schwarber last season). I don’t know that I’m perfect in my managerial style yet. I’m still figuring that out. It sucks to take guys (and) friends out, and players, whether I played with them or whatever. It definitely feels bad, and I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep last night, that’s for sure.”

Imagine having to tell Arrieta he’s going to the bullpen.

The Cubs begin the trip Thursday facing Walker Buehler and also will see Clayton Kershaw on Sunday night.

If the Cubs offense continues to yo-yo its way through the season, it’s going to be a rough ride for all concerned. They hit .216 in April, ranked 25th in the majors, and then got their act together in May, hitting .263 — third overall.

“Offensively we started the season off (among) the worst in the modern-day era, but we bounced back from that,” Pederson said in early June. “Our bullpen struggled at the start of the year and they bounced back. It shows the resiliency (of the Cubs.) Being on the Dodgers so long, you understand it’s not the most talented team that wins the World Series. It’s a special group of guys that have a culture and trust and special bond that’s able to push past some of the individual statistics and get team wins.”

That bond will be tested again now that the Cubs have hit a collective .185 in June, last in the majors. They also rank last this month with a .248 OBP.

“For anybody that doesn’t believe hitting is contagious, and not hitting is contagious,” hitting coach Anthony Iapoce said Tuesday at Wrigley Field. “It comes from the start we got off to, and these guys were able to climb out of it. That shows you who they are and what kind of guys there are.

“And then the pitching we’ve run into — San Diego, San Francisco, the New York Mets, St. Louis, Cleveland and then the Dodgers and the Brewers. It’s going to be a tough stretch for everybody. We’re facing the best pitching in the league.”

The Brewers’ Freddy Peralta, Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes await the Cubs next week in Milwaukee.

“Guys are going in to compete, and when the team struggles, it’s because guys are trying to do too much,” Iapoce said. “We’ve seen some pretty good signs (of a rebound). … Guys are getting on base, starting to mix in some singles without Nico (Hoerner) and (Matt) Duffy, who are a tremendous part of that lineup. You’re starting to see signs here and there.”

Since the shortened 60-game season in 2020, the Cubs have hit a combined .223, ranked 28th in the majors, with a .310 OBP. That’s a stretch of 134 games, or long enough to argue the offensive showing of ’20 wasn’t just a fluke.

But Cubs also have a combined 75-59 record in those 134 games, which would translate to 91 wins over a 162-game season. That’s a record almost any team would take — and a reason the Cubs’ yo-yo offense doesn’t preclude them from making the postseason again.

3. Nine years and counting for Anthony Rizzo.

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo smiles during the ninth inning of a game against the Cardinals on June 13, 2021, at Wrigley Field.

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo smiles during the ninth inning of a game against the Cardinals on June 13, 2021, at Wrigley Field. (Erin Hooley / Chicago Tribune)

Saturday night will mark nine years since the day Anthony Rizzo arrived at Wrigley Field for his Cubs debut.

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“I’m here to stay,’’ Rizzo said that day.

No one has seen more ups and downs than Rizzo, who will be a free agent after the season and is in danger of being allowed to walk away. The Cubs reportedly made a low offer he rejected, and now he’s not having a typical Rizzo-caliber season, which might force him to take it or leave.

The Dodgers would be a perfect destination for Rizzo if first baseman Max Muncy was moved to second, and the Boston Red Sox would be enticing after starting his career in the organization.

He still would prefer to stay in Chicago. But where would Rizzo fit in best?