Years ago, we used to call a pitcher who did what Jake Arrieta did Thursday night a "stopper." You know, a starting pitcher who could come in, take charge and stop a ballclub's losing streak.
Call him "stopper," "ace," or whatever, Arrieta has been great all season and his six innings of shutout ball helped lead the Cubs to a 7-1 win over the Atlanta Braves, snapping a three-game losing streak.
It was pleasant but cool at Wrigley Field Thursday evening, with temperatures in the 60s and a strong wind blowing across from left field to right, a hint of fall in the air, perhaps a hint of what conditions might feel like in... October? And Arrieta, who threw his 12th straight quality start (most in a row by a Cub since Greg Maddux in 1992), was in command the entire way. Just three Braves runners got past first base, and one of those was due to Kris Bryant's error in the fourth inning. That inning was better summed up by a nicely turned 3-6-1 double play. Braves runners decided to start stealing bases in the fifth, but Arrieta got out of that inning, too.
By that time the Cubs had a 5-0 lead, mainly thanks to Anthony Rizzo's 24th homer of the season, a three-run shot about halfway up the right-field bleachers. Addison Russell added a solo homer (his eighth) with two out in the fourth. The Cubs completed their scoring in the fifth when Chris Coghlan tripled home Kyle Schwarber, who had walked, and Miguel Montero doubled deep to center field, scoring Coghlan. It was a true team effort -- all the position players in the starting lineup reached base at least once, except Bryant, who went 0-for-3 before being excused because, for the second day in a row, he fouled a ball off his leg. However:
#Cubs say Bryant was pulled from the game because of the score, not an injury— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 21, 2015
Bryant would've stayed in the game if it was closer. #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 21, 2015
It was, I think, wise to give Bryant a break; Joe Maddon announced before the game that the Cubs wouldn't be taking batting practice for the rest of the homestand. The reason for that?
#Cubs Maddon: "This is a time when the players are a little bit tired, so they can come a little bit later."— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 20, 2015
#Cubs Maddon says he's had success with this in the past. "I much prefer a fresh mind and body right now"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 20, 2015
This is a wise idea, I think, and also the reason that Arrieta was pulled after six innings and 107 pitches, to keep him fresh for the stretch run. He's going to have eight more regular-season starts and at 162 innings, he's very close to his career high (170⅔ in 2012 combined between the minor and major leagues). If the Cubs are to make the postseason and have any sort of playoff run, they will need a rested and healthy Arrieta, whose 15 wins lead the major leagues (yes, I know individual "wins" don't mean that much anymore, but that still gives him a chance to be the Cubs' first 20-game winner since Jon Lieber in 2001). Over his last 12 starts Arrieta's done this:
Jake Arrieta last 12 starts 1.26 ERA, 86.0 IP, 50 hits, 81/21 K/BB, .167 OPP BA, 0.83 WHIP 1 HR hit, 1 allowed 1 triple hit, 2 allowed #Cubs— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 21, 2015
A most impressive run of pitching. Keep up the good work.
I was hoping Travis Wood, who came into the game in the seventh, might finish things out and save the rest of the pen. He threw one good inning, then ran into trouble in the eighth and had to be removed for Justin Grimm, who finished the inning with two fly outs, one of which scored the Braves' only run of the game. Tommy Hunter wound up completing the game with an uneventful ninth. Grimm and Hunter threw 10 pitches each, so both are likely still available for Friday afternoon's contest.
One final note on a good Cub performance: Dexter Fowler had two more hits and raised his BA to .254. Since he hit a low point of .225 on July 11, Fowler is hitting .331/.461/.562 (40-for-121) with nine doubles, two triples, five home runs and 27 walks in 32 games. He scored for the 80th time Thursday night, which ranks third in the National League behind Bryce Harper (84) and A.J. Pollock (83).
The win kept the Cubs four games behind the Pirates, who defeated the Giants. That also helped the Cubs, who now lead San Francisco for the second wild-card spot by four games. I don't know about you, but I'm rooting for the Pirates this weekend. If the Cubs win their games they keep pace with Pittsburgh, but Pirates wins would put several more games between the Giants and Cubs, and the Cubs still have a chance to catch the Pirates as the two clubs will meet seven more times (including the August 3 rainout which still has not been rescheduled).
The Cubs return to daytime action Friday at 3:05 CT, with Kyle Hendricks pitching against Atlanta's Shelby Miller. Here's hoping Thursday night's win was the start of another long winning streak.