Here are some numbers for you:
Jake Arrieta hasn’t allowed a run in nine of his last 12 starts. He hasn’t allowed multiple runs in an inning since July 30. He finished the regular season with 20 consecutive quality starts – the longest quality-start streak to end a season since earned runs became official in 1913. He has a 0.75 ERA since the All-Star Game – the lowest since the All-Star Game came into existence. And the highest batting average allowed on any of his pitches this season is .168.
“Yeah, it’s been crazy,” Chicago Sun-Times columnist Rick Telander said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “At the end of June through July and August and obviously September, Arrieta has been as good as any pitcher ever. It’s really nuts. He just doesn’t give up any earned runs at all. You say what does he do that’s different? It’s hard to say. He just does everything better. He’s got a curve ball that just breaks like crazy and a slider that’s amazing. He’s got a 95 mile-per-hour fast ball, but so do a lot of guys. There’s just something about capturing that moment, which he has done.”
Cubs fans hope Arrieta can capture the moment Wednesday in Pittsburgh, when Chicago plays the Pirates in a one-game playoff. Opposing Arrieta is Gerrit Cole, who went 19-8 with a 2.60 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP and 202 strikeouts this season.
“Gerrit Cole is a great pitcher, too,” Telander said. “Between these two guys, we’ve got 41 wins. We just don’t know what to expect. I really hate the idea of a single-game playoff for these two teams – one with 98 wins, one with 97. But that’s the way it’s got to be. It’s obviously comes down to these two pitchers.”
Cole was one of the best pitchers in baseball this season, and yet many baseball analysts don’t think the Pirates have much of a chance. Arrieta has just been that good.
Telander, however, thinks it’s a coin flip.
“Anything can happen with a pitcher,” Telander said. “Arrieta has been so good. It really defied understanding why he was not a great pitcher before he came over from Baltimore. He was really really good at the start of the year and midway through the year he just became unhittable. But if the Cubs can’t hit – they got a lot of young guys and they are playing in Pittsburgh, so that should be worth something, although who knows? But baseball is a game that’s weighted towards the pitchers. If you can’t hit the pitchers, nothing else can happen. Even a quarterback in football may be right on, but the receivers can drop the ball. Things can happen like that. The defense can do things. But in baseball, you can only score when you’re at bat. You can’t score the other way around. So if your pitcher’s not allowing any runs, the game will just go on forever. So yeah, it is tough.”
As great as Arrieta has been, the Cubs, Telander said, have something going against them:
They’re the Cubs.
“We’re going back 107 years since they won the World Series,” Telander said. “There’s no continuously operating professional franchise in the history of North America – and I believe the whole world – that hasn’t won a championship in that amount of time. I was at the Bartman game in 2003 and they had that game won. They were five outs from the World Series, and then something crazy happened. That’s the thing about sports. If all these stats were absolutes, then we wouldn’t even play the game. But Gerrit Cole is no slouch. If Arrieta pitches like the stats show us he should, well then yeah, it’s going be kind of lights out in Pittsburgh. But the aberrations are what make the case, the things that don’t follow the straight line on the computer. Otherwise you would know who’s going to win the World Series before you even played the season. So I’m a firm believer that all these stats and everything don’t mean anything when you get to a single game. We got two good pitchers going against each other. I’m going to be very excited. This game’s got me all fired up.”