Jake Arrieta’s timing, I think, is just perfect.
The Cubs are on a roll, winning 10 of their 12 games since the All-Star break.
And Wednesday night, Jake looked about as close to the 2015 Jake! as we’ve seen him. He took a no-hitter into the fifth inning and allowed just two hits and a pair of walks and the Cubs’ offense, also stymied by James Shields early, broke loose with a four-run fifth on the way to an 8-3 victory over the White Sox.
Early on, the story was defense. With one out in the bottom of the first inning, Melky Cabrera sent a ball into the left-center field gap. Jon Jay: “Not on my watch!”
Jon Jay with the diving catch, Melky Cabrera can't believe it. #Cubs #WhiteSox pic.twitter.com/75tHpXObNK— Aldo Soto (@AldoSoto21) July 27, 2017
One inning later, Melky returned the favor:
Melky Cabrera now makes the catch on Jon Jay. pic.twitter.com/j3ouw7Snyr— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD2_) July 27, 2017
Between innings, the White Sox ran a nice video tribute to Jose Quintana, and the new Cubs lefthander went to the top step of the visitors’ dugout to acknowledge the appreciation of his former home crowd, although that crowd might have been 60 percent Cubs fans cheering for their new pitcher, too.
Incidentally, Jon Jay: what an outstanding signing by Theo & Co. Not expensive, and he has produced in the starting lineup, off the bench and in the field. Jay is 32, but I would not be opposed to the Cubs keeping him around for another couple of years.
The game went scoreless into the fourth inning. Three singles by Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist and Kyle Schwarber produced a run, but Shields turned Ian Happ’s comebacker into an out at the plate as Zobrist was running on a contact play.
The Cubs broke it open in the fifth off Shields, scoring four runs, with the biggest blow this bases-clearing double by Rizzo:
This is a big-boy hit. pic.twitter.com/I0ORNs6fnn— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) July 27, 2017
That double was it for Shields, and the Cubs had a 5-0 lead when Jay singled in Zobrist, who had bounced into a fielder’s choice with Rizzo caught in a rundown. Zobrist hustled to get to second base.
Also, that was one of three hits on the night for Rizzo. Rizzo, a noted streak hitter, was 2-for-19 in the five games before this series. Against the White Sox, Rizzo is 5-for-10 with two doubles and four walks. Hopefully, this is the start of one of his hot streaks. Looking ahead to this weekend, he loves hitting in Miller Park: 13 career homers there in 139 at-bats.
The Sox broke up Jake’s no-hit bid in the fifth. Yoan Moncada had walked, and Omar Narvaez hit a ball to right-center that bounced into the seats. Moncada was thus stopped at third, but Alen Hanson hit a sacrifice fly to center to make it 5-1.
The Cubs got that run back in the sixth. They loaded the bases on a walk to Jason Heyward, a fielding error by Tim Anderson that allowed Kris Bryant to reach base and an intentional walk given to Rizzo. (Hint to the Cubs: as they do in Baltimore, Sox PA announcer Gene Honda noted on the PA system that Rizzo had been intentionally passed. The Cubs should ask PA announcer Andrew Belleson to do this at Wrigley Field.)
Zobrist lofted a fly to left to score Heyward.
After Hanson’s sac fly, Arrieta retired six more hitters in a row before Moncada smashed his first major-league homer to center field. On a hot, sticky evening, Jake had thrown 98 pitches and Joe Maddon gave him the rest of the night off. It was an outstanding outing from Jake and completed a July in which he had a 2.25 ERA and 0.844 WHIP in five starts covering 32 innings. He went at least six innings in four of those five starts and if the Cubs can get that kind of performance out of Jake the rest of the year, good things are going to follow. Also:
#Cubs starters since All-Star break (12 GS):— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 27, 2017
2.50 ERA in 72.0 IP, 0.903 WHIP
Jake Arrieta in July (5 GS):
2.25 ERA in 32.0 IP, 0.844 WHIP
Again, this is the kind of performance we saw from Cubs starters almost all of 2016. 12 games is still a small sample size, but the rotation has shown signs that it can continue this. For his part, Jake thinks he’s ready for a big second half:
#Cubs Arrieta: "I feel my best baseball and my best pitching is still ahead of me, and I'm ready for it."— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 27, 2017
The Sox made it 7-3 off Mike Montgomery in the eighth on a solo homer by Hanson, but Addison Russell answered that in the top of the ninth:
Addison Russell belts a solo home run over the right-field wall to give the Cubs an 8-3 lead in the top of the 9th inning!!! #ThatsCub pic.twitter.com/GSA68PiC1W— TheRenderMLB (@TheRenderMLB) July 27, 2017
By that time most of the crowd of 38,517 had departed, as it was getting close to 11 p.m. Cubs batters had eight hits and drew eight walks on the evening and White Sox pitchers threw 221 (!) pitches (comparison point: Arrieta and Montgomery combined for 144).
The crowd, which as I noted seemed majority Cubs fans, was pretty good-natured. I saw no incidents, just a lot of back-and-forth “Let’s go Cubbies!” “Let’s go White Sox!” chants. The depleted White Sox brought out guys from their bullpen who are going to have to eat up a lot of innings over the second half of this season. Hopefully, the Cubs can take advantage of this in the series finale tonight.
Meanwhile, Montgomery gave the rest of the Cubs pen the night off by finishing the last 2⅓ innings in relief of Jake.
The win put the Cubs at a season-high six games over .500 and put them in first place by half a game, as the Brewers lost to the Nationals in Washington. It’s the first time the Cubs have been alone in first place since May 26. Jake thinks they’ll stay there:
#Cubs now have a 1/2 game lead over Brewers. Arrieta: "We expect to remain in first place throughout the rest of the way"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 27, 2017
The Cubs will know the result of the Brewers game Thursday before the Sox series finale begins, because Milwaukee’s game at Washington starts at 11:05 a.m. CT. Meanwhile, the Cubs and White Sox finish up their annual set with a night game at 7:10 p.m. CT. Jon Lester goes for the Cubs against Sox righthander Mike Pelfrey.