Jake Arrieta walked the first two hitters he faced Tuesday night, and watching that caused me to have some brief "Uh-oh" feelings. I'm sure you felt it too.
After that, Jake again became the Jake! we've seen for the last year. He allowed just two singles and at one point retired 15 straight Pirates. The Cubs breezed past the Bucs 7-1, winning the series and setting themselves up for a possible sweep Wednesday afternoon.
There have been quite a number of Jake's victories since last summer where he dominated with strikeouts -- the wild-card game, for example, where he K'd 11. That wasn't the case in this one, as he used the stuff he had, not necessarily his best, to induce 12 ground-ball outs (he struck out five). He was helped in that effort by Javier Baez, who made several slick grabs and strong throws to retire Pirates hitters. Here's one of those throws [VIDEO].
It's my opinion that Baez is the best defensive infielder the Cubs have, and he can help at three different positions. Joe Maddon has found ways to keep Baez in the lineup, and he's hitting well, too, and not striking out as much, nine times in 31 at-bats (29 percent), down from 31 percent in 2015 and 45 percent in 2014 (small sample size alert, though).
Meanwhile, the Cubs were taking care of business offensively. Anthony Rizzo, who says he doesn't try to get hit by pitches but gets them anyway due to his close-in stance, got hit leading off the second inning. A double moved him to third and he scored on a groundout by Baez. After two walks loaded the bases, Arrieta drove in a run with a sharp single [VIDEO].
You know how I feel about the DH, but Cubs pitchers are really helping themselves with the bat this year. Through Tuesday night's game they are hitting .193/.238/.281 with a double, a home run, eight RBI and three walks. For comparison, all MLB pitchers this year are hitting .143/.172/.180, so Cubs hurlers are well above those levels. Nicely done.
The Cubs put this game away with a four-run fourth inning. The first run scored on a wild pitch after a walk and a double, then singles by Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant plated runs, followed by an RBI double from Anthony Rizzo, who doubled twice in this one and raised his BA to .242 after it had dropped to .163 on April 19. Since then he is hitting .316/.447/.816 (1.263 OPS) with five home runs and 14 RBI in 10 games. Overall he now leads the major leagues with 26 RBI.
So don't worry about Rizzo. He's done this before, had a slow start and then gone on a hot streak just about this time of year. His two-hit game, along with Bryant's three hits and a pair from Tim Federowicz, paced the offense.
The Cubs scored one final run in the ninth inning after Rizzo's second double moved Bryant, who had singled, to third. Ben Zobrist hit a sacrifice fly, scoring the run. And even with the seven runs and going 4-for-15 with RISP, the Cubs could have had more: they left nine men on base.
Meanwhile, Jake was dropping his season ERA to 0.84 and setting a club record with his 17th straight win, breaking the record held by Rick Sutcliffe. Jake, as always cool and collected, said he's just going to keep on keeping on:
"Maybe in spring training I'll rub it in a little bit," Arrieta said. "But at this point, it's just business. It's cool to think about those kind of things. We all know the career Rick had. It just gives me a little ammo against him. But for now, we have to turn the page quickly."
The linked article above, by Paul Sullivan, also notes longer streaks Jake can shoot for:
The next record to shoot for is Carl Hubbell's streak of 24 straight for the Giants during the 1936 and '37 seasons, in an era in which the Cubs played in four World Series in 10 years.
But No. 24 no longer seems like a pipe dream, especially when Arrieta just keeps mowing down hitters like bowling pins. His streak of 17 straight is tied for fourth longest in major league history behind Hubbell, reliever Roy Face (22 straight in 1958-59) and Roger Clemens (20 in 1998-99).
Jake also became the first Cubs pitcher since Mordecai Brown in 1908 to win his first six decisions. Brown started that year 11-0, and who's to say Jake can't do that? To break Hubbell's mark he'd have to start 14-0. That would be tough... but Jake has been so incredible over the last few months, I wouldn't put anything past him.
Trevor Cahill finished up with two innings that would have been scoreless if not for an inexplicable throwing error by Addison Russell on a potential double-play ball in the eighth inning. The Pirates wound up scoring an unearned run as a result, ruining a potential shutout, which would have been the Cubs' fifth of the year.
And all of this the last two days has been done against a good team, a potential playoff team, a team that won 98 games last year.
I want you to stop whatever you're doing right now and think about how remarkable this Cubs season is so far, 25 games in, 15 percent of the year. In addition to having the best team start over 25 games since 1907, they are doing things this year to lap the field. Consider this:
#Cubs now have 13 wins by 5 or more runs this season.— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 4, 2016
As of right now, 14 MLB teams don't even have 13 TOTAL wins.
That was tweeted before last night's schedule was complete, and the total of teams that have fewer than 13 wins is now 12. But still. Also, the Cubs improved their run differential to +89, which is eight runs better than all of last year and still more than five other teams have scored. The next best run differential is +40, by the Cardinals -- who are a game under .500 at 13-14. Only two other teams are better than +28 -- Nationals (+39) and Mets (+36).
As I noted in yesterday's recap, this seems almost effortless. Remember what you're watching here, because none of us has seen anything like it in our lifetimes.
Cubs walk watch: Five more in this one, the 17th time in 25 games Cubs hitters have drawn five walks or more. Season total: 134 (5.36 per game). Pace: 868.
The Cubs go for the sweep in just a few hours, at 11:35 a.m. CT. The game preview will post at 10:15 a.m. CT. Jon Lester will start for the Cubs; Juan Nicasio for the Pirates.