Jake Arrieta still didn't look like his Cy Young self, but he definitely took a step in the right direction Sunday.
In fact, the Cubs as a whole looked more like themselves Sunday, drubbing the Milwaukee Brewers 13-6 in front of 41,671 fans at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs' new look lineup tallied 22 baserunners on the afternoon — including 10 extra-base hits — and scored in seven of eight offensive frames.
Arrieta allowed only an unearned run in six innings, striking out six and walking just one. He lowered his season ERA from 5.44 to 4.80 on the afternoon and spent most of the game sitting around 93-94 mph with his fastball, a slight uptick from the 91.7 mph velocity he was averaging on the season entering play Sunday.
Joe Maddon actually has seen a different Arrieta the last two starts, including last weekend in St. Louis when Arrieta gave up a pair of two-run homers across six innings.
"The last two games are more remincisent of what he's supposed to look like," Maddon said. "And two really good games to build off of."
Arrieta still doesn't feel quite right with his mechanics, but agrees with his manager about the outing as a stepping stone.
"It was a step in the right direction," Arrieta said. "I was able to do some things a little more consistently to help command the ball glove-side, arm-side. When I'm able to do that with the fastball, the other pitches just kinda fall in line based on the way my delivery feels.
"The timing was pretty good today. It's just something I look to build on because I know there's still room for improvement."
Arrieta did need 111 pitches to get through the six frames, but picked up his first win since May 3 and seemed to be inching closer to his dominant form with a few nasty pitches to the high-powered Brewers lineup:
The 31-year-old starter had settled into exactly 85 pitches each of his last three outings, but Maddon wanted him to stretch things out and Arrieta responded well.
"Felt good," he said. "It was a grind there for a while in a couple of the innings, but was able to bear down, make a few good pitches. I kept the ball on the ground quite a bit today, which was nice.
"That's obviously an indicator of a step in the right direction and just look to build off that and continue to move forward."
The Brewers set off fireworks pregame with some choice words about the way the Cubs handled Saturday's rainout, but it was Kris Bryant and Co. dishing out the blasts in the game.
Bryant hit two homers — the ninth multi-homer game of his career — and reached base five times as the Cubs' restructured lineup looked refreshed and invigorated, scoring in seven of eight offensive innings.
Bryant also made Cubs history:
Kris Bryant: only #Cubs player (1913-present) with 2 HR and 2 HBP in a game— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 21, 2017
Ben Zobrist — appointed as the new leadoff hitter — crushed a homer into the right field bleachers to open the bottom half of the first inning and sent two others to the warning track. Kyle Schwarber — bumped down to second — reached twice via a walk and RBI single.
Willson Contreras added two hits, two runs and a pair of RBI as the Cubs rapped out 10 extra-base hits and tallied 22 baserunners.
The Cubs are off to a hot start on the long homestand, going 4-1 in the first five games.
But Maddon is still waiting for the Cubs (22-20) to put together their complete game.
"We're still not playing our best baseball," Maddon said. "That was a nice 13-run game, whatever. My perfectionism comes in the fundamentals of the game.
"...Hits, whatever. You're gonna hit, you're not gonna hit. But to play the game properly — I thought we ran the bases well, that was good to see. But more than anything, I just want to see us play that championship-caliber defense.