PITTSBURGH -- For a moment -- and I mean, just a moment -- it looked like Chicago Cubs ace Jake Arrieta might have to pitch from behind in a game. He looked human in walking the first two batters in the first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night. But not to worry: He quickly figured things out.
“I recognized early that my sinker had a ton of movement on it,” Arrieta said after picking up the win as the Cubs beat the Pirates 7-1. “The smartest thing you can do is understand what you have that day and use it to the best of your ability.”
Only Arrieta could have too much movement on his pitches, so he quickly went to his bread-and-butter pitch as of late: the four-seam fastball. It fixed things right away. Not long after the opening two walks, the Pirates were done in the first inning, leaving the two runners in the same place they were when there was nobody out. Not long after that, Arrieta went on a run and retired 15 batters in a row. Game. Set. Match.
“I thought he righted himself pretty well tonight,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “It looked he might have backed off velocity-wise to gain command.”
Whatever Arrieta did, it worked. And he added to an amazing run that is closing in on a full year. (In fact, he’s guaranteed of not losing a road start in over a year; his last one was on May 7, 2015, in St. Louis.) His numbers continue to stagger:
After walking the first two batters on Tuesday, only two of the next 22 reached off of him. Both were singles.
Arrieta has the best run differential in the majors at plus-44, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Arrieta is 22-1 with a 0.85 ERA in his past 26 regular-season starts.
The Cubs have won 19 straight regular-season games in which Arrieta has started.
Those are just a few of the more compelling stats associated with the best pitcher on the best team right now. In fact, the Cubs' run differential of plus-89 through 25 games is now the third best in the modern era and the best since the 1905 New York Giants, according to ESPN Stats & Information data. You can thank Arrieta for the run-prevention part of that figure: He has given up just four runs this season. He started slow on Tuesday but finished fast.
“It was the same thing [adjustment] we ran into [in the] last start with Milwaukee,” Arrieta said. “I had to make that transition earlier.”
There’s yet another elite aspect of the pitcher. When it goes south on him, it lasts for about a batter or two and not much damage is incurred. For most pitchers, it could take a full inning -- especially the first inning -- to make the appropriate changes. Not Arrieta. It also helped that his defense was on its game.
“When you have the athletes we do behind me, it’s really smart to utilize them any time you can,” he said.
At the very end of his news conference, in which Arrieta answered many of the same questions he has been answering for about a year now, he was told that Pirates outfielder Matt Joyce started the game because of his past history with Arrieta. Coming into the night, Joyce was 7-for-14 with two walks against the Cy Young winner. But they hadn’t faced each other since 2013, when both were in the American League. Arrieta paused and then smiled.
“Well, he’s facing a different guy now, so it’s a different story,” he said.
The results were different for Joyce yet the same for the Pirates.