Forget about the National League Cy Young Award. Joe Maddon thinks Jake Arrieta could be the NL MVP.
After taking a perfect game into the seventh inning and hitting a home run Sunday against the Pirates, Arrieta is now 21-6 with 229 strikeouts, a 1.82 ERA and 0.88 WHIP on the season.
Since the All-Star Break, as the young Cubs really hit their stride, Arrieta has allowed just nine earned runs in 101 1/3 innings, good for a 0.80 ERA. That is the best mark in Major League Baseball history.
Since Aug. 1, the 29-year-old righty has a 0.44 ERA. Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw (1.80) is the next closest in all of baseball.
Arrieta threw a no-hitter against the Dodgers on Sunday Night Baseball earlier in the season, and with Sunday's start, he's now allowed just one hit in 16 innings in ESPN's national TV spotlight.
So forget debating Arrieta vs. Kershaw and Zack Greinke for NL Cy Young. Arrieta is in MVP territory.
"Where we're at right now, absolutely he's gotta be in (the MVP) conversation, too," Maddon said. "What he's done in the second half is unparalleled. I can't say I've never seen it; nobody's ever seen what he's doing right now.
"To have the venue of Sunday Night Baseball twice, he gave up one hit in 16 innings against two really good teams. What does that mean? There's a lot there that I think voters really have to consider when they look at this fella.
"The number of wins — which a lot of people don't like — he's earned those. All those ancillary numbers that are there are spectacular.
"I know the other guys are really good and I know I'm his manager, but I've never seen anything else like that and I know nobody else has, either. That normally would equal a pretty good award."
Arrieta is extremely driven, always focused on the next task at hand. He still has one more regular-season start before getting the ball in the Cubs' one-game wild-card 10 days from Sunday.
But he admitted that he does allow himself to think about what winning postseason accolades would feel like when he's at home with his wife.
"When the kids are in bed and Brittany and I are talking, we talk about things like that," Arrieta said. "What if? The excitement that goes along with things like that.
"It's pretty short-lived for the moment because we got a lot on our plate. Some big tasks at hand. I think those deserve a little bit more focus than some other things.
"I just think the end of the season will bring about the emotions that go along with those sort of moments. But like I said, we have to stay sharp mentally and keep the focus pretty honed in right now."
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Cubs veteran Miguel Montero caught Randy Johnson at the tail end of his career with the Arizona Diamondbacks, but Montero said Arrieta is the best pitcher he's ever caught, even better than that version of "The Big Unit."
"He's the best right-handed pitcher in the game right now," Montero said. "It's freaky."
Montero said he wasn't even sure what kind of gameplan opposing hitters can have against Arrieta.
"When you face a guy like that, I probably would close my eyes and swing the bat and see if I'd hit it," Montero said.
Of course Arrieta's manager and teammates are going to talk him up as they've gotten a front-row seat to his brilliance this season.
But opposing players are taking note, too.
"(Pirates catcher Francisco) Cervelli made a comment when I came up to hit and said, 'Man, this guy's the best pitcher in the game by far,'" Montero said. "I told him I agree. It's pretty fun."