Baseball is a game of numbers. The stats themselves often tell a story.
But in the case of Jake Arrieta's 2015 — the best statistical run baseball has ever seen from a starting pitcher — numbers don't tell the whole story.
As Arrieta returned to Wrigley Field this week as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, it's worth reflecting on how that surreal run changed the path of the Cubs franchise forever.
After the 2015 All-Star Break, Arrieta made 15 starts, winning 12 of them with a ridiculous 0.75 ERA, 0.72 WHIP and 113 strikeouts in 107.1 innings. He tossed a pair of complete game shutouts — one of which was a no-hitter in Los Angeles — and averaged an unbelievable 7.1 innings per outing en route to the NL Cy Young Award.
It was, quite simply, the best second half by a starting pitcher in the history of baseball.
And the Cubs wouldn't be where they are right now without it.
"His second half, I mean, my god," Joe Maddon said before Tuesday's Cubs-Phillies game at Wrigley Field. "I've never seen anything like it. I don't think anybody else here has. I always compared it to Mr. [Bob] Gibson, what he did back in the day.
"But that was phenomenal to watch him go out every start and pitch deep into the game with bad contact, a lot of punch and great command. It was the most incredible run I've witnessed from a starting pitcher. He was good the next couple years, but it's so hard to repeat what he did that year."
As the upstart Cubs were trying to wrap their heads around the ideas that they were contenders that summer, Arrieta lifted the team up with his performance.
"The rest of the guys fed off that energy, no question," Maddon said. "You get an anchor like that going every fifth day, that really distributes a lot of courage among the rest of the group easily. And I've always felt that.
"That was fun to watch, incredible to watch. What really got this thing going in the right direction was that Wild Card game in Pittsburgh, where, again, he showed up. A lot of what you see happening right now, the one guy that's largely responsible for that would be him."
It's tough to argue Maddon's point. Arrieta singlehandedly shut down the Pirates in that one-game wild-card playoff in 2015, Tweeting smack talk to a Pirates fan before the game and then showing up with a complete game shutout and 11 strikeouts:
It was the Cubs' first postseason victory since 2003 and helped give guys like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber and others that valuable postseason experience and confidence that led to the ending of the 108-year championship drought the following fall.
But the nature of those one-game playoffs is that you could spend all six months of the regular season winning 97 or 98 games and then your playoff hopes come down to one random game where anything can happen.
The importance of that one contest in the history of the Cubs franchise was never lost on Arrieta, who thrived on the moment.
"Yeah, there was a lot riding on that game," Arrieta said. "The confidence level that I had at that point in time and to be in that position to win a game for my team of that magnitude was really special. I knew that was an opportunity for me to capitalize on a moment in this ballclub's history and I wanted to make sure I did that.
"A lot of times, things in this game are out of your hands. You execute great pitches they can hit over the fence sometimes and vice versa — you make mistakes that don't get hit. That just happened that everything kinda fell into place.
"[Kyle] Schwarber hits the 2-run homer in the [third] inning and the game was pretty much over from there. I think the other big point in the game was the sixth inning: I had bases loaded, 1 out, got a big double play and I feel like I flew off the field, kinda riding high at that point.
"After that, I knew the game was over. An incredible victory for us as a team and as an organization and a big one for the history."
Arrieta threw two no-hitters in a Cubs uniform and also won a pair of games on the road in the World Series in 2016.
But that wild-card game in Pittsburgh on Oct. 7, 2015 will go down as his best performance in his eyes.
"I think with what was on the line," Arrieta said, "probably so."
Many Cubs fans, players and coaches who stood up and applauded Arrieta during his chill-inducing tribute Tuesday night would agree.
"I thought that was awesome," Kyle Hendricks said. "That was really cool. I was able to look over there, smile at him. He deserves all of it, everything he's done for this team, since I've been here, everything he's done for me.
"I can't even start to explain it all. He's an awesome teammate, awesome guy and yeah, he deserves all that recognition for sure."