Remember what Matt Harvey was like in 2013?
In command. Dominant. Overpowering. A must-watch. A strikeout machine.
Those same words can be used to describe Jake Arrieta of the Cubs in 2016.
Arrieta is the best right-handed pitcher in baseball, and we’ll leave it there because Clayton Kershaw is the best lefty, and if we were to question who actually is the better of the two, we’d be here all night.
Like Harvey, who changed the dynamic of the Mets in 2012 and gave them an attitude, Arrieta has been part of this Cubs resurgence since he arrived in the middle of the 2013 season from Baltimore.
That trade – reliever Pedro Strop and Arrieta to the Cubs for Scott Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger – definitely set this in motion.
In a very short time, the Cubs went from being one of the worst teams in baseball at the time of that deal to in the NLCS last season and a favorite to win it all -why dance around it – this season.
Since he joined the Cubs in 2013, Arrieta is 48-15 with six complete games, five shutouts, two no-hitters, and a 2.23 ERA (134 ER/540.1 IP) in 83 starts.
Since June 21, 2015, a little over a year ago, Arrieta has gone an other-worldly 28-3 with a 1.37 ERA (38 ER/250.0 IP) and 258 strikeouts in 36 starts.
Twenty eight wins in 36 starts, that’s mind-boggling, as is the fact that the Cubs won 23 straight games from July 30, 2015 to May 25, 2016, tying the longest streak in baseball history since 1913.
“When Jake’s on that run like he was certainly last year and the beginning of this year, no matter what he threw – he buried it,” Mets manager Terry Collins said of Arrieta. “He made the perfect pitch with it. He wasn’t afraid to go out of the strike zone because he had great command within the strike zone.
“Plus stuff – he’s always had plus stuff. Last year, when we saw him, he chewed us up so easily until we got in the playoffs (4 runs in 5 innings against him in NLCS Game 2), and then, you know, every pitch he made, guys were coming back, just shaking their heads ‘I can’t hit this, I can’t even the spin up.’ That’s why you salute him.”
With Arrieta leading the way, the Cubs rotation – which also has Jon Lester, John Lackey, Kyle Hendricks, and Jason Hammel – might be the best in the National League, even better than the Mets.
Three Cubs starters have a sub-3.00 ERA – Lester at 2.30, Arrieta at 2.10, and Hendricks at 2.06.
If this holds, it would be just the third time in Cubs history (the others two were 1985 and 1963) that three Cubs starters have a sub-3.00 ERA before the All-Star Break.
The Cubs rotation has proven to be durable, as those are the only starters they have used this season.
Cubs starting pitchers have a 2.70 ERA, as they have allowed 149 earned runs in 496.2 innings. The Mets’ rotation is second with a 3.30 ERA and the Nationals have a 3.41 ERA.
The dominance of the Cubs starters is certainly reflected in their fast start, as they are 51-29 and have commanding leads over the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates, two perennial playoff teams. To see St. Louis nine games out and the Pirates 12 games off the pace is shocking.
On Saturday night, the Mets sent the ageless wonder Bartolo Colon to the mound against Arrieta, and that is something that excited Collins.
“Well, one thing about Bartolo, this is a matchup he’s had 50 times,” Collins said of Colon before the game. “This guy’s pitched, the couldn’t even get tell you against how many Cy Young award winners in his career. He doesn’t get too emotional, he’s gonna go do what he does. He doesn’t care what the other guy does, you’re not gonna see him match velocities. He’s going to go pitch his game.
“When we talk about his influence on the young pitchers, it’s the same thing. If everyone went about their job just like Bartolo, hey look, I’m ‘just going to be myself today, don’t care who I’m pitching against,’ they’ll be a lot better off.”
Arrieta’s prior outing was last Monday, when he allowed five runs on four hits and five walks, with four strikeouts.
“Hopefully, we’ll get one of those games like his last start,” Collins said of Arrieta. “His command wasn’t as good, walked five guys, I think. Hopefully, you get one of those games tonight because, if he’s on, he’s tough to hit.”
Collins’ wish came true, as the Mets got off to a nice start. Brandon Nimmo opened the game with a walk, and then Neil Walker, on a full count, hit a two-run homer to right field. Yoenis Cespedes followed with a double, but was stranded on the bases. Arrieta threw 35 pitches in the first inning.
Arrieta retired ten in a row after the Walker homer, and the Cubs tied it on a two-run shot by Anthony Rizzo in the fourth.
The Mets re-took the lead in the bottom of the fourth when Travis d’Arnaud got a bloop hit into center field to score two and make it 4-2.
Arrieta lasted just 5 1/3 innings, and allowed four runs on eight hits and two walks, and had four strikeouts. This was just the third time Arrieta allowed eight or more hits, and the third time he allowed four or more runs this season.
The Mets held on for a 4-3 win behind the superb Colon and bullpen, but that happens. Call this a blip, because Arrieta still is dominating the league.