Apart from the fourth inning Saturday, Jake Arrieta threw a near-immaculate game.
What happened in that inning? Only Jake knows, but the Pirates hit him hard, with three hits producing two runs and the first lead for the Pirates over the Cubs this year since the second inning of the first game the two clubs played, a week ago Monday in Pittsburgh.
Both before and after that inning, Jake didn't allow any hits, and just two other baserunners, both on walks. He struck out 11 and improved his record to 7-0 as the Cubs beat the Pirates 8-2, their fifth win in as many tries against the Bucs this year.
The Cubs didn't let that Pittsburgh lead last very long. Just moments after Jake's shaky inning, Jason Heyward legged out an infield grounder, Kris Bryant walked and Anthony Rizzo launched a ball in the direction of the right-field bleachers:
That ball was hit very high and likely helped by a strong west-northwest wind blowing out to right field. The Cubs, of course, will take it.
They tacked on three more runs in the sixth, two of them on this blast by Addison Russell [VIDEO], Russell's second homer in as many days and fourth of the season. After a not-so-great April, Russell is hitting .341/.431/.614 in May (15-for-44) with four doubles, a triple, two home runs and 14 RBI. The Cubs added another run in that inning after Miguel Montero (welcome back!) was hit by a pitch, Jake walked, and Dexter Fowler dumped a bloop single down the left-field line.
The Cubs finished the scoring with two more in the eighth. Three singles, the third of those by Bryant, produced a run, although Bryant inexplicably tried to take second base and gave himself a rare TOOTBLAN. Rizzo drove in the final run with a single up the middle. In doing so he took over the National League RBI lead with 33 (passing Nolan Arenado) and tied Robinson Cano for the major-league lead. The 33 RBI are in 35 games, so that's a pace for 153 RBI on the season, and the way this team is scoring, I wouldn't say that's an unreasonable goal. Rizzo has also reached base now in 26 consecutive games, a career high, and best in the major leagues this year.
For Jake, here's the summary of his recent outstanding performances:
Jake Arrieta last 28 starts— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 14, 2016
0.98 ERA, 203.0 IP, 105 Hits, 45 BB, 202 K, 4 HR, 0.739 WHIP #Cubs
Arrieta has given up 3 or fewer runs in 28 straight starts, longest streak in Majors since 1893. #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) May 14, 2016
Apart from that fourth inning, he keeps getting better and better. Among his 11 strikeouts was one of Starling Marte in that inning, and evidently the Pirates weren't happy with some of the strike calls, because Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage came out to talk to starter Jeff Locke at what seemed to be an odd time (after Heyward's single, and a couple hitters before Rizzo's homer) and got himself tossed.
It occurred to me that he might have gone out there with the specific thought of getting himself ejected, maybe to fire up his team, or maybe because Jake hit Jung Ho Kang in the top of the inning. The Pirates didn't like that:
Locke on Arrieta hitting Kang: "It just seems like a guy like that, with the pinpoint accuracy he has, doesn't just miss in."— Travis Sawchik (@Sawchik_Trib) May 14, 2016
Clint Hurdle on Arrieta hitting Kang: "I’m not good on judging intent. You can judge intent."— Travis Sawchik (@Sawchik_Trib) May 14, 2016
Miguel Montero on the thought of Arrieta hitting Kang on purpose: "That's stupid."— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) May 14, 2016
If the Pirates were trying to fire themselves up with that or create controversy, it backfired. Montero is absolutely right.
One thing that was strongly encouraging about this one was Heyward's day. He had three hits and a walk and hit the ball solidly on the one out he made (a fly to center in the first). He seems to be making better contact and it won't be long, I don't think, before he goes on a hitting tear.
Something that would certainly help that would be some consistently warmer weather. This contest, played five weeks after the home opener, was the coldest afternoon home game the Cubs have had all season, with a biting wind blowing toward right field. Many people in the near-full house were not dressed for the weather and the park began to empty out, especially in the upper deck, as early as the fifth inning. I'm still cold as I write this, and I've been home for almost an hour.
More fun facts about this year's Cubs:
#Cubs starting infield RBI this season— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 14, 2016
33 Rizzo - 1B
28 Zobrist - 2B
27 Russell - SS
25 Bryant - 3B
At the moment, those figures rank first (Rizzo), tied for fifth (Zobrist), tied for seventh (Russell) and tied for ninth (Bryant) in the National League. Want more fun Cubs facts? Sure you do!
15 (55.6%) of the 27 #Cubs wins this season have been by 5+ runs— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 14, 2016
The win improved the Cubs' run differential to +110 (213-103) and against the Pirates, it's +26 in five games (37-11), which means the average victory by the Cubs this year over the Pirates is 7-2.
I mentioned in the series preview that the Cubs haven't swept the Pirates in a three-game series at Wrigley Field since 2008. They've got a chance to do that Sunday, and doing so would also move them to 20 games over .500. Jon Lester takes the mound against Gerrit Cole, and yes, it's supposed to be sunny and less windy, though still coolish in the mid-50s.