CHICAGO -- The Cubs came into the National League Championship Series tired and taxed, their rotation and bullpen worn down by heavy usage in early October.• NLCS Game 4: Tonight, 9 p.m. ET/8 CT on TBSConsider Jacob Arrieta the exception. Traditionally Chicago's workhorse, Arrieta has pitched a total of 12
CHICAGO -- The Cubs came into the National League Championship Series tired and taxed, their rotation and bullpen worn down by heavy usage in early October.
• NLCS Game 4: Tonight, 9 p.m. ET/8 CT on TBS
Consider Jacob Arrieta the exception. Traditionally Chicago's workhorse, Arrieta has pitched a total of 12 innings in the last six weeks, as the Cubs have nursed him back from a strained right hamstring. Making just two abbreviated starts down the stretch in September, Arrieta did not pitch again until Chicago's fourth postseason game. He will return to the mound tonight in Game 4 of the NLCS presented by Camping World, in what could be his final start as a Cub.
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After dropping Game 3 to the Dodgers, 6-1, on Tuesday night to fall into a 3-0 NLCS deficit, the Cubs will need a strong effort from Arrieta to help them extend their season to a Game 5.
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"I think the leg issue is pretty much behind us," Arrieta said. "I don't see it as being a factor anymore from this point moving on."
The upshot from Arrieta's absence is that he is as rested as any pitcher can hope to be in mid-October. Ranking fourth in the Majors with 468 1/3 combined regular-season and playoff innings from 2015-16, Arrieta threw just 168 1/3 this summer, plus another four in the NL Division Series vs. the Nationals. For a team that manager Joe Maddon said is "most effective when we get our starters more deeply into the game," Arrieta has the potential to do just that.
"Not being out there for a couple weeks was a little shaky, but I got some good sessions on the side in between then and now," Arrieta said. "I feel pretty good where I'm at now."
In his two most recent matchups against the Dodgers, Arrieta has struggled, allowing eight runs over 11 total innings -- including four in five innings in Game 3 of last year's NLCS. But Los Angeles' current core of hitters has not made much solid contact against him, including Chris Taylor and Cody Bellinger, who went hitless in their matchups with Arrieta this season.
Arrieta's Game 4 counterpart, Alex Wood, is also well-rested, not having pitched at all this postseason. But unlike the Dodgers, who have featured a near-perfect bullpen throughout October, the Cubs have more incentive to use Arrieta's recent rest to their advantage. He is more likely than Wood to pitch into the middle innings.
"It comes down to who wants it more and who executes when they need to execute," Wood said.
More than anything, Arrieta wants to ensure that Game 4 will not be his last start as a Cub. A free agent after this season, Arrieta certainly may go elsewhere; already, agent Scott Boras is talking openly about a nine-figure deal for his client.
Even if the Cubs may disagree with Boras' price tag, they understand his reasoning. Few players have meant more to Chicago's recent run of success than Arrieta. Few hold as much power to keep it marching toward another World Series berth.
"I'm still going to kind of take everything in as well as I can," Arrieta said, "and prepare to the best of my ability and be ready to face these guys in Game 4."
Anthony DiComo has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook.