WASHINGTON -- The box score from Tuesday's Cubs game is ugly. The feeling in the clubhouse was worse. Max Scherzer had as many hits as he allowed. Two Cubs errors led to two Nats runs. Washington stole seven bases against Jacob Arrieta, who walked six in an abbreviated outing.
"A lot of the damage was self-inflicted -- the walks, stolen bases, a couple errors," manager Joe Maddon said. "It was a non-Cub-like game on the field. ... We hurt ourselves."
Arrieta's slow delivery didn't help catcher Miguel Montero, who is now 0-for-31 in throwing out baserunners for the season.
"It really sucked because the stolen base goes on me," Montero said. "When you really look at it, the pitcher doesn't give me any time. It's like, 'Oh, yeah, Miggy can't throw anybody out.' Yeah, but my pitchers don't hold anybody on. It's tough. ... I don't get a chance to throw. That's the reason they were running left and right. They knew he was slow to the plate, simple as that."
Maddon is aware of the problem.
"It's an imperfect situation," Maddon said. "It's not about the move to first, it's about time to the plate more than anything. [Arrieta] is a little slow, really gathers, his leg comes up high. It's something he works on. There are times when he's quicker or better, but with guys like [Trea Turner], who are premier runners, it's really difficult. The best antidote is to keep [Turner] off the bases."
Montero was charged with one of the errors on a throw to third, trying to get Michael Taylor in the fourth. There were times, Montero said, when he didn't even consider throwing because he knew it would have to be perfect.
Turner stole two bases in the first and again in the third. He now has 32 steals for the season; the Cubs have 23.
Montero, 33, is not as quick as he once was behind the plate, according to Statcast™. His average pop time to second on stolen-base attempts is 2.11 seconds, compared to the MLB average of 2.00 seconds. For comparison, teammate Willson Contreras has a 1.93 average pop time to second (the league leader is the Padres' Austin Hedges with 1.88 seconds).
Of course, very few pitcher-catcher combinations have had any luck throwing out Turner, who is 32-for-37 on stolen-base attempts this year. Per Statcast™, his baserunning sprint speed is the fastest among shortstops at 29 feet per second. The Major League average is 27 feet per second, and Turner is one of just 16 players averaging 29 feet per second or better.
"I love speed. And when you have it, you gotta use it," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said.
"When Turner's on the bag, you try to be mindful of that and vary your holds, but he's fast," Arrieta said. "He's a factor any time he's on. That's why you try to do your best to keep him off base. ... I don't care who's behind the plate -- [Turner] is a threat, and he's shown that. You're better off getting him out, and I wasn't able to do that very well."
In Arrieta's previous start, against the Marlins, he was efficient and gave up one run over seven innings, throwing 82 pitches. On Tuesday, the right-hander did notch his 1,000th career strikeout when he fanned Turner in the fourth, but it's the fifth time this season he's been unable to finish five innings.
"The last start was more indicative of the way I'd like to throw as far as commanding the strike zone and forcing contact early in the count," Arrieta said.
Arrieta can be a free agent after this season. He'd love to secure a contract like Scherzer's (seven years, $210 million).
"I can pitch at his level," Arrieta said. "I just haven't done it consistently. He's been very good throughout his career. I've had a couple good ones, a bad one, a couple good ones. I'd like to be more consistent throughout."
On Monday, the Cubs opened this four-game series with a much crisper 5-4 win. How can they find some consistency?
"That's the million-dollar question right there," Montero said. "If I knew the answer, I'd be talking to the guys to figure it out and get it going. It's tough. It's one of those days, you get beat and go home and you think about it, and it's going to be hard to sleep on it. It was just a bad game."