By early September 2015, people were finally realizing that Jake Arrieta's season was something truly special. This was his first start after his no-hitter and he breezed through it again, allowing just four hits in eight innings.
The Cubs moved back to 20 games over .500 at 77-57, still 9½ games behind the Cardinals. They picked up a game on the Pirates and trailed them by three games and stood eight games ahead of the Giants for the second wild-card spot.
I'm running out of superlatives to describe Jake Arrieta's performance this year, so let's go with his numbers after the Cubs shut out the Diamondbacks 2-0 behind another amazing Arrieta outing:
- He's now thrown 29 consecutive scoreless innings...
- ... during which he's allowed 12 hits and three walks (0.517 WHIP) and struck out 35.
- He's won 18 games, which is the most since Carlos Zambrano had 18 in 2007.
- His ERA since June 21 is 0.99.
- His ERA since August 1 is 0.30.
- He has allowed one home run since June 4 -- that covers 17 starts and 120 innings
And Saturday, after the remote possibility of back-to-back no-hitters went away with Paul Goldschmidt's first-inning single, Arrieta bore down. He gave up another single in the first and one in the second and then started a 1-6-3 double play to end that second inning. Those outs were the first of 17 consecutive D'backs retired by Arrieta before Jarrod Saltalamacchia bounced a ground-rule double into the seats in right-center with two out in the seventh. The next hitter, Jake Lamb, dribbled a ball toward third base and in front of the plate, which Arrieta pounced on and threw Lamb out at first.
Well, except first-base umpire John Hirschbeck didn't see it that way. This was one of the quickest overturned calls I can remember seeing, as Anthony Rizzo did a great job of keeping his foot on the bag while taking Arrieta's throw:
That took only about 35 seconds to overturn, and finished the inning. Arrieta had a 1-2-3 eighth, but at 116 pitches it was wise for Joe Maddon to turn to Hector Rondon (26th save) to wrap it up. Rondon missed a comebacker for a leadoff single, but then Kris Bryant, who had started the afternoon in left field but moved to third base in the ninth, made a nice stop on a sharply-hit ball by A.J. Pollock to start a double play. Goldschmidt, returned to the D'backs lineup after attending the birth of his first child in Phoenix, singled for his second hit of the day, but Rondon got David Peralta to ground to Rizzo to end it.
Oh, right. I haven't mentioned anything about the Cubs' offense in this game; it was largely absent, but didn't have to do too much because of Arrieta's great pitching. The Cubs broke through in the fourth, loading the bases on a single and two walks (and credit to Javier Baez on his walk that loaded the bases, he really does seem to have changed his approach). David Ross grounded out to score the first run.
Dexter Fowler launched his 16th home run of the season into the left-field bleachers in the fifth for the other run. Fowler now has career highs in homers (16), runs (89) and walks (71). His overall numbers are quite comparable to his career norms and he has produced 2.2 bWAR (2.9 fWAR, if you prefer). I'd have no problem bringing him back next year, although the Cubs now do have a possible alternative in Austin Jackson. Both men are free agents. Jackson walked and was hit by a pitch Saturday, and had a TOOTBLAN when he was doubled off first base on a short fly to right hit by Bryant.
Much of the Chicago area had rain and storms Saturday, but no rain fell around Wrigley and the sun came out shortly before game time. The wind was blowing out strongly when the game began, but shifted off the lake around 2:15, not long after Fowler's home run. The only thing I can tell you about the near-sellout crowd is that everyone was really into the game. There was an ovation for Arrieta when he walked out to the bullpen to warm up before the game, and when he came to bat. He is every bit the definition of rotation ace. And based on the current rotation, he won't face the Cardinals next week, but will be on target to face the Pirates twice and Cardinals once over the next three weeks -- and then be right on schedule to start the wild-card game October 7.
Yes, I know, I'm getting a bit ahead of things here, but the Cubs sure seem to be heading in the direction of being in that game, if not hosting it. They reduced their magic number over the Nationals to 21 and over the Giants to 20. At this writing the Cardinals are leading the Pirates in the late innings; if St. Louis holds on the Cubs would trail Pittsburgh by just three games for the top wild-card spot. The win also put the Cubs back to 20 games over .500 and their current winning percentage would put them at 93 wins.
I write the words in the paragraph above and I still can't quite believe it. This team has played good ball all year, but has stepped it up when the games are most important, and for that, I give credit to Joe Maddon, who has been through these races before and whose steady hand has pushed all the right buttons over the last five weeks. The Cubs are now 26-11 since the Phillies sweep at Wrigley in late July.
Speaking of sweeps, let's get one tomorrow, shall we? Kyle Hendricks will face Rubby De La Rosa at 1:20 CT.