Years from now, when historians take a look back at the 2015 major-league season, one of the questions asked will undoubtedly be: "How did Jake Arrieta not make the All-Star team that year?"
Because after his second straight outstanding outing Sunday that resulted in a 4-1 Cubs win over the Braves, Arrieta's beginning to put himself in the Cy Young Award conversation. Sure, that award's likely going to Zack Greinke, who had his sixth straight scoreless start Sunday and now has a 1.30 ERA and 43⅔ consecutive scoreless innings. But Arrieta is starting to get noticed for his own shutout string, now standing at 16 innings, and his last six starts look almost as good as Greinke's:
Jake Arrieta last 6 starts: 0.96 ERA, 46.2 IP, 24 Hits, 44 K/7 BB, 0.66 WHIP #Cubs— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 19, 2015
Arrieta, as he did last Sunday against the White Sox, appeared to have no-hit stuff early. A.J. Pierzynski ruined any chance of that with a two-out double in the fourth inning. That might have been predicted, as A.J. had six hits in eight career at-bats against Arrieta coming into this game. Personally, I will be happy to likely see Pierzynski just three more times (the Braves series at Wrigley next month, unless A.J. is traded before then); he's likely retiring at the end of this year.
In seven innings and 112 pitches, Arrieta gave up just two other hits. He issued three walks and struck out 10. He also singled, and after starting the year 0-for-28 at the plate, Jake now has five hits in his last 13 at-bats, including a home run. Pedro Strop gave up a leadoff double in the eighth, but wound up with a scoreless frame. I've written this before, but it's certainly worth repeating: the acquisition Arrieta and Strop represents the best trade (so far) that Theo & Co. have made since taking over the Cubs baseball management.
With the game taken out of save territory by Chris Coghlan's RBI double in the ninth, James Russell was given the chance to finish the game against the team that let him go in spring training, but after issuing a two-out walk, he had to be relieved by Jason Motte, who allowed an RBI double to Andrelton Simmons to ruin the shutout, which would have been the Cubs' second straight.
The Cubs won the game and the series despite again not generating a whole lot of offense (just nine runs in the three games, though they allowed only four). Jonathan Herrera, who seems to do good things every time he gets a start, hit a two-run single in the second inning, taking advantage of an Atlanta error for two unearned runs and Jorge Soler homered in the third. Soler, who missed a month of action with a leg injury, homered for the first time since May 29, his fifth of the year. I think all of us were expecting Soler to provide a little more power, and so this home run was good to see. I hope it leads to quite a few more over the season's final 72 games.
It was also good to see Dexter Fowler get another hit and draw a walk. He seems to be starting to come out of the offensive funk he's been in for over a month (he'd hit under .200 for over 120 plate appearances in his last 30 games before Sunday). It wasn't good to see Starlin Castro fail with the bases loaded in the fifth. Look, I am not going to engage in Castro-bashing here; that appears to have become some kind of sport and far over-the-top.
However, I am going to say that Castro has been in a slump that has now lasted almost a month. He has 13 hits in his last 79 at-bats (.154) dating back to June 23. I don't know what the solution is, but I know he's a better player than that, as he had a very good season just a year ago. The Cubs really need to find some answers for Castro. I was pleased to see him single in the eighth, although he was stranded. The Cubs were 2-for-12 with RISP and left 11 men on base, and even though the pitching staff has carried this team recently, they are going to have to start hitting better.
The Cubs did do one thing well on offense Sunday: they drew six walks and now have 307 for the year, second in the National League to the Dodgers. That's 3.41 walks per game, a good average, but they would have to step that up to get anywhere near the team record. That would put them on pace for 553; the team record is 650, set in 1975.
Without much offense, the Cubs have gone 10-6 over their last 16 games despite scoring only 50 runs over that span, 3.13 per game. They have allowed just 36 runs in those 16 games, 2.25 per game. That's good... but with more offense, it could be a lot better.
The series win was the first for the Cubs in Atlanta in four years and, with the Giants winning over the Diamondbacks, the Cubs hold on to their one-game lead for the second wild card. With the Pirates losing to the Brewers, the Cubs pull to within 3½ games of Pittsburgh for the first wild-card spot. And, with the Mets' 18-inning win over the Cardinals, the Cubs trail St. Louis for first place in the division by eight.
The road trip continues in Cincinnati Monday night in the opener of a four-game series with the Reds. Clayton Richard gets his second Cubs start (third appearance) against Michael Lorenzen.