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In appreciation of Jake Arrieta

The big righthander left an indelible impression on Cubs history.

Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

I was going to wait to write this article until after Jake Arrieta signed with a team this spring.

But we now stand just a week and a day away from spring-training games, and Jake doesn’t appear any closer to signing. Once games begin, we’ll be busy here with those and focusing on things Cubs players are doing, so I thought now would be a good time to reflect on the five seasons Jake spent in a Cubs uniform.

First, let’s stipulate that this:

... isn’t going to happen. Not only do the Cubs not have room under the luxury tax for Jake — and they spent a lot of time and effort structuring a Yu Darvish contract to do that — but with the signing of Darvish, there really isn’t any room for Jake in the Cubs’ rotation.

I chose the photo at the top of this post for a specific reason. It was taken June 13, 2014 in Philadelphia; the Phillies were doing a 1964 throwback uniform game and I particularly like this version of the Cubs road uniform. Beyond that, that game was one of the first signs of Jake becoming the Jake! he was for about a season and a half. He didn’t allow a hit until the fifth inning, and wound up allowing just two hits in seven innings, walking one and striking out nine.

A few weeks after this start, the jersey you see in the photo above was for sale via Cubs Authentics. At the time, Jake was good, but hadn’t become the superstar that 2015 brought. So I bought the jersey, and wore it to Wrigley Field for many of Jake’s starts from then through 2017. I’ll still do that; the memories of what Jake Arrieta brought to the Cubs are worth acknowledging.

Several weeks after that, Jake nearly no-hit the Reds at Wrigley Field. Brandon Phillips broke up the no-no with one out in the eighth inning; Jake wound up with a one-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts.

It is of note that at the time of that game — September 16, 2014 — it was the first time a Cubs pitcher had thrown a complete-game shutout at Wrigley Field in almost five years, since Ryan Dempster had done it September 29, 2009. And it was the Cubs’ first shutout with only one hit and at least 13 strikeouts in 13 years, since Kerry Wood’s gem against the Brewers May 25, 2001.

You could tell something special was happening; Jake was beginning the revival of great Cubs starting pitching.

His 2015 season started well, but not otherworldly well; after a five-inning stint in which he allowed six walks and four earned runs his ERA stood at 3.40. Not bad, but not great, either.

Then he threw a four-hit shutout against the Twins at Target Field.

That began one of the most remarkable pitching runs since the Deadball Era.

In Jake’s final 20 starts of 2015, he posted an 0.86 ERA, 0.701 WHIP and struck out 147 in 147 innings. He held opponents to a .150 BA, .200 OBP and .250 SLG. He allowed just two home runs in that span — exactly as many as he hit as a batter. The Cubs were 18-2 in those starts; Jake threw four complete games, including his no-hitter against the Dodgers August 30:

Ten regular-season starts later, he did it again, no-hitting the Reds April 21, 2016 (scroll in about 4:00 to get to the last out):

In Jake’s first 15 starts of 2016, he posted a 1.74 ERA and 0.878 WHIP, with 107 strikeouts in 98 innings and only three home runs allowed.

Putting that 2015 run together with his beginning to 2016, that’s 35 starts, just about one full season’s worth, and the following results: 28-4 (team record in starts 30-5), 245 innings, 137 hits, 38 runs, 33 earned runs, 62 walks, 254 strikeouts, five home runs allowed, 1.21 ERA, 0.812 WHIP.

That’s one calendar year’s worth, from June 21, 2015 through June 22, 2016. I doubt we will ever again see a run of dominance like that.

As you know, Jake’s performance after June 22, 2016 slipped. He showed flashes of his previous brilliance, especially in his two World Series starts, but never again put together a run of consistently outstanding outings as he had previously. His fastball velocity dropped, perhaps one reason Theo Epstein said that the Cubs had made Darvish their No. 1 priority this past offseason:

And that’s fine. Going forward, it does appear that Darvish will provide better pitching than Arrieta would have over the next six seasons.

And as I write this, Jake is still unsigned. He could yet wind up throwing for a division rival; the Brewers’ pitching rotation doesn’t look like it can compete with the Cubs and neither does the one down I-55 in St. Louis. Either of those would set up several Jake vs. the Cubs battles for a few seasons.

Or Jake could wind up pitching for the Twins, and Minnesota does visit Wrigley Field this summer. Or he could become a member of the Nationals, and that’s a possible postseason matchup for the Cubs.

But the amazing run Jake Arrieta had in 2015-16 is forever etched in Cubs history, and in my memory. Thanks, Jake, for your five seasons of contributing to the Cubs and for being a significant part of breaking the World Series drought. When his career is over, I’m reasonably certain the Cubs will have had the best five seasons of it.

And at that point, he can return to Cubs Conventions and other events as a World Series champion. I’ll always wear that jersey with pride.