CHICAGO -- Jake Arrieta continued his late-season push for the Cy Young Award in the National League with another stellar performance Sunday night. Arrieta (21-6) allowed just one hit in seven innings -- and retired the first 18 batters he faced -- to lead the Cubs to a 4-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates to salvage the final game of the three-game series.
The Cubs now trail the Pirates by 4.5 games in the race for home-field advantage in the NL wild-card game. Here’s a closer look at the game.
How it happened: The Cubs grabbed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first as Dexter Fowler led off with a walk, went to second on a groundout by Kyle Schwarber and scored on a single by Kris Bryant. It was Bryant’s 99th RBI of the season.
The lead grew to 2-0 in the second inning as Arrieta belted an opposite-field home run off Pirates starter A.J. Burnett. It was Arrieta’s second homer of the season.
But clearly the story of Arrieta’s night was what he did on the mound. He retired the first 18 batters he faced before Gregory Polanco led off the seventh with a single to left field. Arrieta had eight strikeouts through six innings and just one batter -- Pedro Alvarez leading off the sixth -- managed to get the ball out of the infield.
After striking out Starling Marte for the first out of the seventh, Arrieta hit Andrew McCutchen to put runners at first and second. Arrieta clearly was upset with himself, but worked out of the mini-jam by getting the next batter, Aramis Ramirez, to bounce into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.
That was all for Arrieta, who was lifted after throwing just 84 pitches. Arrieta had thrown 123 pitches in a complete-game performance on Tuesday to win his 20th game. Before Sunday’s game, manager Joe Maddon said he wanted to lighten his ace’s workload.
Starlin Castro provided a couple of insurance runs in the bottom of the seventh with a two-out, two-run double to make it 4-0. Castro’s drive originally was called a home run, but was overturned following replay.
What it means: Despite the uncertain nature of a one-game wild-card playoff, the Cubs have felt comfortable with the format because they can line up their rotation to pitch Arrieta in that game. They have to feel even more confident after Sunday’s dominating performance.
The streak that the hard-throwing right-hander is on is almost unprecedented in major league history. Arrieta is now 11-1 with a 0.80 ERA (nine earned runs in 101⅓ innings) in 14 starts since the All-Star break. That ERA would be the lowest post-All-Star break ERA in major league history. Kris Medlen of the Atlanta Braves holds the record of a 0.94 ERA, which was set in the second half of the 2012 season.
The last Cubs pitcher to win more than 20 games in a season was Ferguson Jenkins, who went 24-13 in 1971.
What’s next: Sunday was supposed to be the final home game of the regular season, but the Cubs will host a makeup game against the American League Central champion Kansas City Royals on Monday night. Right-hander Kyle Hendricks (7-7, 4.23 ERA) pitches for the Cubs against right-hander Yordano Ventura (12-8, 4.40).