PHOENIX -- If the Chicago Cubs are going to avoid a sweep and win the final game of this three-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday, they will need another quality start from starting pitcher Jake Arrieta.
Strong performances have become commonplace for the Cubs right hander as he continues his renaissance season, however the importance of him doing so has grown during the last couple of weeks.
When the season began, Arrieta was one of three veteran starters who shared the workload of carrying the starting rotation. That changed on July 4, when the Cubs traded Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, leaving Arrieta as the stopper of the rotation.
Fellow veteran starters Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood continue to struggle, so when the Cubs are faced with a losing streak, such as the current four-game slide they own entering today, their hopes will fall on Arrieta to remedy the situation.
"You have to stay positive and make sure these guys know we are supporting them," said manager Rick Renteria of his struggling starters. "They expect to have quality outings and we do as well. It hasn't gone as well as we would've liked lately but we still go out expecting they'll give us a nice outing and then we'll backfill it with the relief.”
Fortunately for the Cubs, Arrieta has pitched well enough to instill confidence that he is up to the job. Since the beginning of June, he has been one of the best pitchers in baseball. He's also extended his outings by pitching at least seven innings in four of his last five starts.
There is also the hope that the young arms in the back end of the rotation can deliver some quality starts. Kyle Hendricks was announced as Tuesday's starter a couple of days ago.
Renteria announced before Sunday's game that Tsuyoshi Wada would get the start on Wednesday.
With the Aug. 1 trade deadline looming, September call-ups to follow and looks at current young arms in the system, starting pitching will continue to be in transition for the remainder of the season. But at least, Arrieta will be there to provide stability and veteran leadership in the meantime.
Dan Straily was another arm under consideration to join the starting rotation but he will remain in the minors. Renteria didn't say when he may be recalled but it sounded like they wanted to take a little time to allow him to regain his form instead of rushing him back up to the big club.
Another factor that could help the Cubs is a return to Chicago, as they will open a 10-game homestand on Tuesday after playing a stretch of 14 out of 17 games on the road dating back to June 29.
Renteria joked before Sunday's game about an incident the night before when he went out for the double switch and wrenched his right shoulder while reaching for the rail to leave the dugout. He is experiencing some muscle tightness but is not expected to see time on the DL.