CHICAGO -- The domination continues.
That would fit for both the Chicago Cubs over the Pittsburgh Pirates and, more specifically, Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta. Arrieta struck out 11 on Saturday in yet another masterful eight-inning performance, especially after the fourth inning when he gave up two runs. They were the only ones the Pirates would score.
Montero is referring to some of the six called strike threes Arrieta earned from plate umpire Brian Knight -- all coming after the right-hander's fourth-inning struggles.
“I was trying to guide it in the strike zone,” Arrieta said of that inning. “[Montero] came to me and said, 'Let it go.'
“I knew I had my work cut out for myself. Was able to do some things effectively after the fourth inning. Got some punchouts looking with the fastball. When I’m doing that, I know I’m in a pretty good spot.”
What ensued after the fourth was a clinic as Arrieta tied a career high in called strike threes, last achieved in September 2014, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The only player to reach after the fourth inning was Pirates pitcher Jeff Locke, who walked on four pitches with one out in the fifth. The next two batters struck out looking, and Arrieta never looked back. The scary part is that the Cubs think he has more.
“He’s not been as sharp as he can be,” manager Joe Maddon insisted. “I mean that. I’m not trying to be casual about it. There’s another level of sharpness for him. ... He’s still doing a pretty good job.”
If by “pretty good job” he means a 7-0 record and 1.29 ERA, then, yes, Arrieta is doing OK. So are the Cubs, who can sweep the Pirates for the second time in two weeks and open a 10-game lead on them in the NL Central. This was supposed to be the Cubs' biggest competition in the division. Instead, competing with them in hit batsmen has been the bigger subject, but that has nothing to do with the standings.
“The thing I like most is we come ready to play every day. We’re [not] just going to show up -- that’s not how this club operates,” Maddon opined. “We’re holding ourselves to a high standard. Everyone wants to win every day. That doesn’t happen all the time. I’m telling you, it doesn’t.”
Maddon believes talent is the driving force, of course, but there’s more going on inside the clubhouse pushing them, even when a series has been won. With a 5-0 mark against the Pirates this season and a run differential of 37-11, the Cubs are proving Maddon right: They aren’t letting up.
“We have a good team here,” shortstop Addison Russell said. “We compete every pitch -- and we’re having some fun.”
Most of it is at the expense of the Pirates, who must be looking in the mirror right about now wondering what it’s going to take to win a game against Chicago. The Cubs have beaten aces and fifth starters and everyone in between. Who’s on the mound is always the determining factor for Maddon. His team has the distinct edge so far.
“Everybody participates, but for me it always comes down to starting pitching,” Maddon said. “It’s very unusual what [Arrieta's] doing.”
That applies to the Cubs' start to the season as well.