We saw lots of games like this one from Jake Arrieta in the second half of 2015, but this game was the first inkling that he'd be able to do what he did after the All-Star break. It was the Cubs' second complete-game shutout of the year (Kyle Hendricks had done it against the Padres exactly one month earlier) and Jake's first since September 2014.
Just a sign of things to come. This win made the Cubs 37-30, and with both the Cardinals and Pirates losing on this day, the Cubs shrunk the deficit to seven games behind St. Louis and just one game behind Pittsburgh.
There have been two no-hitters thrown in the major leagues this month, one just Saturday by Max Scherzer. And many of us have felt that Jake Arrieta would someday throw one.
That chance was taken away Sunday on Arrieta's fourth pitch of the afternoon. Brian Dozier singled sharply to left field. Six pitches later, Arrieta had two outs on a nicely-turned double play by Addison Russell and Starlin Castro. Joe Mauer followed with a double, but was stranded when Trevor Plouffe lined out sharply to Kris Bryant. Several hard-hit balls in the first inning made me think Arrieta was not going to have a good day.
But after the first, Arrieta gave the Twins a whole lot of nothing. Dominant from the second inning on, "State Farm" gave up only one more hit, didn't walk anyone and struck out seven. At one point Arrieta struck out four straight, in the middle of a stretch of 12 consecutive hitters retired, and completed a four-hit shutout (the second of his career) with 121 pitches, the first time any Cubs starter has thrown 120 or more since Arrieta had 120 in his near-perfect game last June 30 at Boston. He was still dealing at 96 miles per hour in the ninth inning, an outstanding performance. The Cubs blanked the Twins 8-0, taking the series at Target Field and going home with a 3-2 road trip.
Even better, both the Pirates and Cardinals lost Sunday afternoon, so the Cubs picked up a game on both of them and are now just one game behind the Pirates for second place in the N.L. Central, but even with the Bucs in the loss column.
The Cubs' offense was a bit slow to get started in this one before finishing off strong. They squirted out a run in the third on a walk, a single and a sacrifice fly by Castro. Then Anthony Rizzo, who had a fantastic series, smashed his third home run of the series and 15th of the year to extend the lead to 2-0 in the fifth. Rizzo, who had been in a pretty bad slump, is now 8-for-20 over his last four games (including the last game in Cleveland) with two doubles, four home runs and six runs scored. Let's hope that carries over into the upcoming homestand against the Dodgers.
The Cubs put the game away in the eighth inning. Castro led off with a single and then Chris Coghlan just barely missed a two-run homer to right-center. It hit high off one of Target Field's high walls for a double. The Twins then decided they wanted the platoon advantage. Twins manager Paul Molitor ordered lefthander Aaron Thompson to intentionally walk Chris Denorfia in order to pitch to Kyle Schwarber.
Mistake! Schwarber smacked a two-run single into left field, a fine sendoff as he heads back to Triple-A Iowa after today's game. Schwarber's six-game major-league audition was a great success. He wound up 8-for-22 (.364), which included a triple (for his first big-league hit) and his first major-league home run. He walked once (today) and scored six total runs and even got an inning in behind the plate last Tuesday at Wrigley after Miguel Montero was ejected.
The Twins then replaced Thompson with Michael Tonkin, who walked Russell to load the bases again.
Dexter Fowler, who's also been slumping (4-for-25 coming into this game and 0-for-4 before the eighth inning Sunday), crushed a Tonkin fastball into the right-field seats for a grand slam, the second of his career. That was nice to see; the Cubs haven't gotten much offense from Fowler the last few weeks and it would be really helpful to see him get going.
All of this was accomplished in front of a sellout crowd that seemed to be nearly half Cubs fans, from what it sounded like on the TV broadcast.
The Cubs are now 5-5 in interleague play and 11-8 this month. The eight-run victory increased the Cubs' run differential to +22, the highest it's been so far this year. The club now comes home for a series that accounts for an entire homestand, four games against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Monday night it'll be Clayton Kershaw against Tsuyoshi Wada. Don't think that's as much of a mismatch as you might imagine -- Wada was great in his last start and Kershaw got cuffed around a bit by the Rangers. As Joaquin Andujar once said: Youneverknow.