The St. Louis Cardinals are the team that didn’t seem to fear Jake Arrieta, puncturing the air of invincibility around the game’s most dominant pitcher, even in losing last year’s playoff series.
It would have been impossible for Arrieta to pitch like that forever, no matter how hard he did Pilates or what he incorporated into his nutrition program. But for all the existential questions leading into the All-Star break, the Cubs appear to be getting their ace back now.
As the rain poured down, Arrieta walked off the mound to a standing ovation during Friday afternoon’s 13-2 win over the Cardinals at Wrigley Field. This is more like it for the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner.
Even if the Cardinals made Arrieta work, driving up his pitch count to 105 and bumping him out of the game with two outs in the sixth inning. A relentless lineup had staked Arrieta a seven-run lead after two innings, and he probably would have pitched deeper if not for two errors by Kris Bryant and Javier Baez.
Still, Arrieta is 14-5 with a 2.55 ERA after limiting the Cardinals to one run on four hits and finishing with six strikeouts against two walks, again looking like someone who can front a playoff rotation.
“You look at the numbers, they’re outstanding again,” manager Joe Maddon said. “You become more hypercritical after a guy’s achieved what he did last year. And (that’s) almost impossible to replicate. That was just like wire-to-wire incredible. But the way he started out today really was reminiscent of that, (with) the fastball pounding of the zone.
“The fastball had that little extra life at the end. The strike-throwing was better. The curveball had great depth. I can honestly say from the side that reminded me of last year.”
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The Cubs (73-41) are taking off again in August, the way they did last year, when Arrieta began transforming from a talented guy figuring things out to the hottest pitcher on the planet, someone in complete control of his game. The Cubs have now won 11 in a row, dropping the Cardinals to 14 games back in the NL Central.
“We know what we’re capable of,” Arrieta said. “Regardless of how many games you win the division by…once you get to October, the slate’s clean. That’s the focus. Obviously, you try and continue to play good baseball up until that point, clinch the division and go from there.
“We want to be playing our best baseball going into October.”