SAN DIEGO -- Hold everything.
Maybe Chicago Cubs star Jake Arrieta isn't ready to give up his Cy Young Award just yet. While teammate Kyle Hendricks has been everyone's favorite flavor of the month -- he leads the majors in ERA, after all -- Arrieta has vaulted himself back into contention with an eight-inning, two-hit, no-run performance against the San Diego Padres on Tuesday night.
"I'm mixing everything from the get-go," Arrieta said after the 5-3 win. "I'm not hiding anything for later in the game. ... The speed differential is what allows me to keep those guys off balance."
Arrieta found his groove after leadoff hitter Travis Jankowski was picked off third base by catcher Willson Contreras but that came only after the righty walked Jankowski on a full count. At that moment there had to be a lot of "here we go again" from anyone who has followed Arrieta this year, especially coming off a career-high seven walks last outing.
"I wasn't worried," manager Joe Maddon said. "[More like] 'Where are we going with this?' Then he righted himself."
Two walks, two hits and seven shutout innings later after that first one and Arrieta had his league-leading 16th win. Victories may not mean what they used to but they aren't meaningless either. And if Hendricks and others have him beat in ERA -- Arrieta lowered his to 2.62 -- then he has them on giving up hits. As in he doesn't. He leads the majors with a miniscule .183 batting average against.
"That was really reminiscent of last year," Maddon said. "The only thing that has been amiss is a little bit of command issue on occasion."
Right now those command issues might be the only thing stopping Arrieta from winning consecutive Cy Young awards, but either way talk of postseason honors won't overshadow the actual postseason itself. Maddon had a decision to make after eight innings while holding a 5-0 lead on Tuesday. Let Arrieta finish -- and in turn help his Cy Young chances -- or be more prudent and save some pitches for more important games down the line.
"Learning lessons from last year I didn't want him to go 110, 115 pitches," Maddon said. "He understood that."
He may have understood it but it may have also taken a quick conversation to convince him he was done after only 99.
"I was mad at Joe for taking me out," Arrieta said. "At the same time he came over to me and said, 'Remember last year, let's conserve some things for October, end of September.' That's our game plan."
If you fault Maddon for pulling him then you better keep quiet if Arrieta hits a wall as he did last year in the National League Championship Series. And remember the Cubs want to play one round longer. Saving pitches has been a year-long exercise. Why wouldn't they pull Arrieta with a five-run lead in the game and a double-digit lead in the division?
"Could I have finished the game?" Arrieta asked. "Yes. But does it play in our favor to maybe conserve that for later?
"Joe is a really smart guy. He knows what he's doing. I feel like he makes the right moves in the right situations. That's why we've been playing as well as we have."
The rotation has been doing it all season long. In terms of that batting average against, Arrieta isn't the only starter giving up very little contact. In fact the Cubs starting staff is approaching historic numbers in that the opposition is hitting only .213 overall against them. For comparison, the Los Angeles Dodgers are second in the league but trail the Cubs by 20 points. According to research by ESPN Stats & Information, it would be the second lowest batting average against for a starting rotation since 1920, eclipsed only by the 1968 Cleveland Indians. And Arrieta is at the head of the pack. It gives hope for a repeat personal honor and the team a chance at something special this October. So Maddon says forget the near ninth-inning meltdown -- the bullpen gave up three runs -- Tuesday was about Arrieta.
"Subtract the drama, Jake was outstanding," Maddon stated.