Jake Arrieta’s evolution into one of the game’s most dominant pitchers accelerated the rebuilding plan at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs don’t want to think about where they would be without Arrieta, who spent parts of four years on the Triple-A level before getting traded from the Baltimore Orioles in the middle of the 2013 season in the Scott Feldman flip deal.
That explains why manager Joe Maddon wanted to be cautious during Thursday’s 7-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves – and why Arrieta sounded a little annoyed afterward in the interview room/dungeon.
“I don’t like to harp on quality starts,” Arrieta said. “I wasn’t really thrilled with six innings. I would have liked to get a little deeper.”
Arrieta can be on a different wavelength sometimes, but that makes him so interesting to talk with and fun to watch. The Cubs needed someone to stop a three-game losing streak and restore order after the Detroit Tigers dropped 25 runs on them the previous two nights at Clark and Addison.
The Cubs are scoreboard-watching now: The Pittsburgh Pirates opened their four-game series against the defending World Series champs with a 4-0 victory over the San Francisco Giants on Thursday at PNC Park. That left the Cubs four games behind the Pirates for the first wild-card spot and still in a playoff position, four games ahead of the Giants.
With the Cubs trailing the St. Louis Cardinals by 8.5 games in the division, fans, media personalities and basically anyone with a Twitter account can debate whether or not Arrieta should start a one-game playoff over Jon Lester.
“Everybody wants to pitch in the postseason,” Arrieta said. “At this point in time, we don’t intend to be a wild card. We still think we can win our division.
“We’re still in a position here where we can jump some guys if we can get hot and have some good fortune with the teams ahead of us.”
Arrieta earned his 15th win by getting 18 outs – seven strikeouts, zero flyballs and groundball after groundball – while allowing only four singles and one walk to lower his ERA to 2.30.
A seven-run lead allowed Maddon to shut down Arrieta after six scoreless innings. Arrieta had already passed his career-high in innings and is now at 168 with six weeks left in the season.
“I don’t think anybody really thinks it’s an issue,” Arrieta said. “I definitely don’t.”
Arrieta didn’t make the All-Star team – and doesn’t have that huge national name recognition yet – but at this point he should be in consideration for the National League’s Cy Young Award.
“Absolutely,” Maddon said. “There’s no question he is. We watched it all year. He’s been really, really consistent with high-end stuff. It’s not like a coincidence that he’s pitched this well.
“There’s so much positive going with him right now he’s got to be in consideration for all those things. He’s among the elite pitchers in the National League, probably in (all of) baseball. And beyond that, when it comes to awards at the end of the year, he has to be considered strongly.”
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Arrieta has now made 12 consecutive quality starts. The last Cubs pitcher to go on a longer run than that was future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, who put together 14 quality starts in a row in 1992, the first of his four straight Cy Young seasons (and only one in Chicago before jumping to Atlanta).
Just like Maddux, Arrieta is a Scott Boras client, positioned to become a free agent after the 2017 season and able to think his best years are still in front of him.
“Jake’s in a good rhythm right now,” pitching coach Chris Bosio said. “He’s got a little arrogance going on about him.”
That’s the attitude the Cubs are trying to create now – with Arrieta front and center.
“There’s no doubt that he’s a competitor,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “You can see the fire when he’s pitching.”