PHILADELPHIA -- It's official. We have a Cy Young award race in the National League.
With Los Angeles Dodgers hurler Zack Greinke sporting a 1.68 mark, the two are the only starters with a sub-2.00 ERA in baseball. Arrieta needed to get into Greinke's area code to have a chance at the award -- and now he's there.
"My vote is for Jake," Cubs manager Joe Maddon stated after Friday's game.
Unfortunately for Arrieta, Maddon doesn't get an official vote but you can bet the manager will be lobbying for the pitcher the rest of the month and into October.
Arrieta had a few rough moments Friday but nothing to throw him off his hot streak. He has thrown 16 quality starts in a row and got better as the game went along. Next up is a big matchup against the playoff-bound Pittsburgh Pirates and a date with destiny.
Arrieta rests on 199 innings and 19 wins. One more inning and one more victory would be first-time milestones for the righty.
"Not many guys do it," Arrieta said of 20 wins. "It's hard to do. There are so many variables that have to add up for that to happen.
"You can't have many off nights."
It has been a long time since Arrieta had an off night as he's vying to produce the lowest ERA ever in the second half of a baseball season. His manager believes his season took a turn after throwing a complete-game shutout in Minnesota in late June.
"I really thought everything jumped from that moment," Maddon said. "I always believed that when a young starter pitches a complete game it can really propel them. It's kind of like they taste blood in the water. 'I like being out here for the ninth inning.' And that's a good thing, obviously."
Maddon is all for the Cy Young debate, calling it "good for baseball." But before Arrieta lowered his ERA below 2.00 it was hard to see him beating out Greinke. All their ancillary statistics are off the charts. Either would win it in any other year. Greinke has fewer walks, Arrieta more strikeouts. Opponents hit .192 off Greinke, .194 off Arrieta. Greinke has given up 12 home runs in 28 starts while Arrieta just gave up his 11th in his 29th outing. It was the first home run given up by him in 60 innings and snapped an 18-inning scoreless streak overall.
"Regardless of the timing I had tonight, it wasn't exactly where I would have liked it," Arrieta said. "Sometimes your body reacts differently on certain nights and it's hard to get into that rhythm.
"The adjustment that's necessary can be made regardless of how you feel."
Arrieta made the necessary changes breezing through the middle innings as he needed just 16 pitches to get through the fifth and sixth. He gave up six hits in 112 pitches. There once was a debate over whether Arrieta would be chosen for the wild-card game, but even fellow ace Jon Lester thinks Arrieta is "the best pitcher in the league." If the Cubs move on to play postseason baseball, Arrieta will be a huge piece to the puzzle.
"I think about pitching in October every day," he said. "But it's really not going to be any different. ... It's a crazy atmosphere. Whether there's 40,000 or 50,000 or 10,000, it doesn't make what I have to do any different."
Arrieta's poise as an emerging star is one reason Maddon believes his pitcher can handle the big October moments, though this will be his first time experiencing them. Once in a while, Arrieta will speed things up on the mound, according to Maddon, but he has learned to quickly slow them down again or pitch through it.
"When I do try to step on the gas I'm not out of my mechanics," Arrieta explained. "I might add a little too much effort. There are times I'll get ahead of myself. You just have to learn how to back off."
Time and again Arrieta has proven the ability to do that, including Friday night when he pitched out of a couple of jams. But when he gets in a groove, watch out. Now he's on the verge of some historic accomplishments -- he already has a no-hitter this season -- but he's trying not to focus on any of it, only the task at hand. Helping his team to the playoffs.
"It doesn't matter to me really," Arrieta said. "After the season you look at your line and you can appreciate it then.
"Those are things people strive for. They set their sights high and try to reach those milestones. Just want to be quality for the team. Finish on a good note."
If he can finish the way he has been pitching over the past three months then the Cy Young award might be his. It'll be a close vote with both Greinke and Clayton Kershaw battling it out with him.
"It's good for baseball to have all that discussion," Maddon said. "It's hard to argue against any of the trinity."