On this day, Jake Arrieta became the Cubs' first 20-game winner in 14 years, since Jon Lieber in 2001. And he did it in style, throwing a three-hit, complete-game shutout with 11 strikeouts.
The Cubs improved to 89-62, still trailing the Cardinals by six games and the Pirates by four. They led the Giants by 10½ games for the second wild card and their magic number to clinch a playoff spot was reduced to three.
I want you to pause whatever you're doing, not necessarily right this minute but sometime today, and recognize the historic nature of what you have seen Jake Arrieta accomplish in 2015.
There are almost no baseball terms nor words in the thesaurus to describe what the big Cubs righthander has done all season long. The "magnificent" in the headline just scratches the surface; here are some synonyms for Jake's performance in Tuesday night's 4-0 shutout of the Brewers:
brilliant, excellent, grand, outstanding, splendid, superb, towering, commanding, majestic, standout, superior, transcendent
But those are just words. Here's just one of the baseball things Arrieta accomplished with this win, his 20th:
#Cubs Arrieta has 0.86 ERA in 13 starts since the All-Star break, lowest ERA in that stretch in Major League history.— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 23, 2015
That's lower than Hall of Famer Bob Gibson in his 1968 season, generally recognized as the best pitching season since the Deadball Era. Gibson's ERA after the All-Star break that year was 1.20 in 15 starts. Piker.
You all know this was Arrieta's 20th win, and in so doing he became the first Cub to accomplish that since Jon Lieber in 2001. It was also his third complete-game shutout of 2015. He's the only major-league pitcher this year with three, and he's the first Cub to throw three in a season since Greg Maddux had four in 1992. One more win and Jake becomes the first Cub to win more than 20 in a season since Fergie Jenkins won 24 in 1971.
Want even more? Of course you do. Jake's 1.88 ERA is the lowest for any Cubs qualified starter since Hippo Vaughn posted a 1.79 season ERA in 1917. His 0.903 WHIP is the lowest for any Cubs qualified starter since Hall of Famer Mordecai Brown posted 0.873 ... in 1909. A WHIP as low as Jake's right now has been posted only 10 times by anyone since Gibson had an 0.853 WHIP in 1968. Jake could make it 11. (Actually, 12, as Clayton Kershaw has a 0.902 WHIP this year.)
In short, you are witnessing something that no Cubs pitcher has done in a century. It almost is beyond any description I can put into mere words. Savor it, because you never know when this is going to pass our way again.
Any thought that Jake was going to no-hit this makeshift lineup of Brewers ended with his second pitch of the evening. Scooter Gennett laced a double down the left-field line. But Arrieta then retired the next 14 Brewers in order, with just three of those putouts leaving the infield. Gennett had taken third on a groundout, but he was the only Brewer to get past first base all evening. Jake seemed a bit shaky in the first inning, but whatever happened there was put to rest for the balance of the game. He did seem to labor a bit in the eighth inning, issuing his only walk of the night, and:
#Cubs Maddon considered lifting Arrieta after 8 IP. "With everything attached to [the game], I thought it was appropriate to send him out"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 23, 2015
I'm glad Joe Maddon did this. Arrieta got a loud ovation when he came to bat in the seventh inning, a louder one when he singled, and one even bigger when he came out of the dugout to start the ninth, which he began with a flourish, striking out Logan Schafer and Adam Lind. He then ran the count full on Khris Davis, who fouled off a couple of pitches before hitting a routine ground ball to Javier Baez at second base to end it as the crowd exploded. The atmosphere wasn't quite as intense as it had been over the weekend against the Cardinals, but again nearly no one left the ballpark, wanting to see Jake finish this amazing performance.
One more Jake note: his 11 strikeouts give him 220 for the season, most for a Cub since Mark Prior had 245 in 2003.
The Cubs didn't give much offensive help to Jake off three Brewers pitchers, though he didn't need much. Kris Bryant's two-run homer in the third would be all the runs Arrieta would need. Bryant's 26th home run set a new Cubs team record for homers by a rookie, breaking Billy Williams' 54-year-old team mark. I can't think of anyone who's happier for Bryant than Billy, who the players say has been a source of support and backing all year long. Bryant has also driven in 98 runs, two away from becoming the first N.L. rookie to have a 100-RBI season since Ryan Zimmerman in 2006. Also, with his eighth-inning RBI double Bryant now has 263 total bases, just two short of the Cubs' rookie record for that (265, by Billy Herman in 1932). More team history that hasn't been seen in decades.
Since Aug. 1 Bryant is hitting .341/.413/.631 (61-for-179) with 14 doubles and 12 home runs.
If you thought Kyle Schwarber was in a recent slump (he sort of was, but had been hitting the ball hard even while making outs), he started to come out of it Tuesday night with a walk and two hits (Well, sure, one of them was a bloop double, but he'll surely take it). Starlin Castro extended his hitting streak to nine games with a single, and Castro is now hitting .457/.490/.783 since September 5 (21-for-46 with three doubles, four home runs, 15 RBI and only seven strikeouts).
In short, it was a nearly flawless performance not only by Arrieta, but by the entire Cubs ballclub. The complaint department door is not only closed, but locked, boarded up and nailed shut.
One final note on this game: it was the Cubs' ninth straight win over the Brewers. They will go for 10 straight vs. Milwaukee and their third consecutive sweep of the Brew Crew Wednesday evening, with Kyle Hendricks facing Zach Davies.
Now let's talk about the playoff race. The only team that did the Cubs any favors Tuesday was the Nationals, who lost to the Orioles. The Cubs can eliminate Washington from the wild-card race tonight with a win and a Nats defeat. The Giants beat the Padres, so the Cubs' magic number to clinch a playoff berth is three -- thus, that cannot be accomplished tonight. The Pirates and Cardinals also both won again, so the N.L. Central race remains as it was: Pittsburgh trailing St. Louis by four games, the Cubs six behind St. Louis and still two behind the Pirates for the top wild-card spot.
It's possible the Cubs could wind up clinching a wild-card spot on Thursday's off day. That would mean a Cubs win and a Giants loss tonight, and then the Giants losing again Thursday (as well as one more Nats defeat), possible but unlikely. Wouldn't it be great if the Cubs went into Friday's action with a magic number of one, with national attention as the only afternoon game that day, and clinched with a win over the team they're trying to catch for home field in the wild-card game?
Hey, I can dream, right? This whole season has been that way. Why not think big things? You're witnessing extraordinary performances that haven't been matched in almost 100 years. Perhaps the Cubs will do more of this sort of thing in October.