PITTSBURGH -- No one who saw Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta last year is surprised at what he has become. Maybe the bigger surprise is how his teammates have come along with him. The Cubs won their sixth straight game, 5-0, over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday as Arrieta was magnificent on the mound again.
After turning down the celebratory music next to his locker stall after the game, the confident Arrieta explained his current status in the baseball world.
“Being consistent is something I’ve been able to establish, and now it’s how can I go out there and dominate every time,” he said after pitching seven shutout innings. “It’s easier to say than do, but with the preparation and proper game-planning it’s possible to have dominant performances almost every time out. That’s what I intend to do.”
Break down that statement. No longer is Arrieta worried about just keeping his team in the game from one start to the next -- that’s so 2014. Now he’s all about domination. Ask the Pirates, who managed two hits and three walks off him -- but only one hit and one free pass came from anyone not named Andrew McCutchen. They barely touched him. Arrieta improved to 12-6 and lowered his ERA to 2.50. Eerily, his manager believes there’s even more to come from him.
“He’s not there yet,” Joe Maddon said. “When he understands how to utilize all his weapons, it can really get scary. There’s another level of Arrieta over the next couple years. I firmly believe that.”
The Cubs are reaching new levels themselves. Tuesday’s win pulled them to within three games of the wild-card leading Pirates while maintaining their hold on the second spot. Maddon called the victory “theoretically, a perfect game” outside of leaving too many men on base. Their defense up the middle was outstanding and their approaches at the plate were the best as a group in a while. Starlin Castro had two doubles, Jorge Soler singled home a run and walked with the bases loaded, and Chris Denorfia had three hits. But the leader of the group was first baseman Anthony Rizzo. He went 4-for-5, including three more hits off a lefty, starter J.A. Happ.
“It looks like he might be catching his second wind a little bit,” Maddon said recently about Rizzo. “Everybody else [the rookies] is always being portrayed and built up and here’s this guy that’s a baby himself. He really is. He’s still making his mark.”
The Cubs are feeling it right now, but a team is only as good as the next day’s starter. They’ll get their first look at newcomer Dan Haren on Wednesday.
“Each win breeds more confidence throughout the ball club,” Arrieta said. “We need to keep it rolling as long as we can. It’s important to find your stride at this point in the season.”
He ended his session with reporters with a final thought about the Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals -- coming from the hottest team in baseball.
“It’s our job to continue to put the pressure on them and let them know we’re coming for ‘'em,” Arrieta said.
On that note, cue locker room music back up. Celebration continues. He earned it.