MILWAUKEE – Bring it on. There’s no other way to interpret Jake Arrieta’s game face and body language now, looking like he’s ready to put the Cubs on his broad shoulders and lead them through October.
Arrieta dominated the Milwaukee Brewers during Friday night’s 6-1 victory at Miller Park, cruising through six scoreless innings in his final tune-up before the National League’s wild-card game and possibly locking up a Cy Young Award.
“I’m definitely prepared, obviously confident,” Arrieta said. “Everything’s where it needs to be.”
Arrieta finished an unbelievable regular season with 22 wins, a 1.77 ERA and 236 strikeouts in 229 innings. Fair or not, the Pittsburgh Pirates could win almost 100 games and have their entire year come down to nine innings against a Cy Young winner.
“If that did not clinch his award, I don’t know what would,” manager Joe Maddon said after watching Arrieta limit the Brewers to two singles, finishing with seven strikeouts against zero walks. “Right there, that had to be the clincher.”
Maddon pulled Arrieta after 72 pitches, knowing there will be bigger moments ahead for his 95-win team. But what a finishing kick for Arrieta, who hasn’t allowed a run in his last 22 innings and closed with 20 straight quality starts, going 16-1 with a 0.86 ERA.
“That would be cool,” Arrieta said of his Cy Young chances. “When the season’s over, we’ll think about that a little more. But obviously Wednesday is the most important thing for everybody here. And that’s where I’m going to keep my focus for now.”
The Los Angeles Dodgers have their own devastating 1-2 punch, and we’ll see how Zack Greinke (18-3, 1.68 ERA, 0.85 WHIP) and Clayton Kershaw (16-7, 2.16 ERA, almost 300 strikeouts) respond this weekend against the San Diego Padres.
But Arrieta’s 0.75 ERA after the All-Star break will be the lowest in major-league history. He did this for a playoff contender in baseball’s toughest division and threw that no-hitter at Dodger Stadium in front of a national-television audience.
“I can’t tell you I expected all of this,” said Maddon, who guided the Tampa Bay Rays at a time when Arrieta struggled to establish himself as a major-league pitcher with the Baltimore Orioles.
“From a distance, I saw the potential in the past. The way the season started out, he wasn’t really nailing it down like he could. But then all of a sudden…”
The Cubs have scored a grand total of four runs in Arrieta’s six losses. The last team to beat “Snake” was the Philadelphia Phillies on July 25 – the day Cole Hamels threw a no-hitter at Wrigley Field.
“His stuff is different,” Maddon said. “Just the way the fastball moves. (It’s) the velocity combined with movement and then the other pitches. The slider. I love his curveball, which he doesn’t even throw that often, and now the changeup has been introduced.
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“My point in the beginning of the year was (he) had all these different weapons that he didn’t know how to use in particular moments.
“He’s figured out how to only break the other goodies out when it’s necessary.”
At some point this offseason, back home in Austin, Texas, Arrieta will try to wrap his mind around what just happened, but really he’s just getting started now.
“We don’t have time for that yet,” Arrieta said. “Enjoy the win tonight and start getting ready for Pittsburgh on Wednesday.”