Cubs fall to D-backs, but Arrieta deals, promises ace down the stretch

It’s impossible. It’s supposed to be, anyway.

Unless you think like Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta.

‘‘It’s possible,’’ Arrieta said. ‘‘Yeah. I don’t see why not.’’

Arrieta was talking about replicating the historic finish he had in 2015 that led to his National League Cy Young Award, a feat he didn’t approach even during an All-Star season in 2016.

Newly acquired catcher Alex Avila and pitcher Jake Arrieta made their first start together look seamless.

‘‘That’s tough to imagine,’’ manager Joe Maddon said. ‘‘That was a unique situation. That was so surreal the way he nailed that whole thing down. Anything close to that is still spectacular.’’

Then Arrieta went out Wednesday and pitched his best game of the season against the Diamondbacks. He allowed three hits in seven
innings, rolling through the first five nearly untouched until shortstop Addison Russell’s throwing error contributed to a two-run sixth.

‘‘We were talking about a couple of years ago? That was pretty reminiscent,’’ Maddon said of a game in which Arrieta commanded a 93 mph sinker and a sharp curveball. ‘‘That was very close. He was outstanding.’’

Arrieta didn’t even win. Former Cubs farmhand Zack Godley beat his old organization 3-0. It was only the Cubs’ fourth loss in 18 games since the All-Star break.

‘‘That’s the kind of game you lose, and I have no issues, man,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘I have zero issues.’’

Left-hander Jon Lester this week said the Cubs look like a different team than the one that limped into the All-Star break with a losing
record. First baseman Anthony Rizzo said ‘‘all the good vibes’’ from the last two seasons are back.

Also back is Arrieta, if the last month is any indication. Since the start of July, he’s 3-2 with a 2.08 ERA and a 0.79 WHIP in six starts. His overall ERA has dropped from 4.67 to 3.88 during that span.

Arrieta hasn’t pitched this well for a six-start stretch since the first two months of last season. He hasn’t pitched better for a longer stretch since the last four months of 2015.

After a start last week, Arrieta said he thought his best games this season were still to come.

‘‘I still feel that way,’’ he said Wednesday. ‘‘I feel like there’s some things I can do a little better and more consistently. I have all four pitches at my disposal when I need them, and it feels like it’s trending in that direction. So it’s very positive not only for me but for the team, as well.’’

That’s the real bottom line. Arrieta’s Cy Young finish was the biggest reason the Cubs became a playoff team in 2015, and they wouldn’t have won the World Series last season without him beating the Indians twice in Cleveland, including a must-win Game 6.

If he’s back? If he finishes even close to how he did two years ago?

‘‘Outstanding,’’ Maddon said.

The Cubs’ starting rotation is 11-2 with a 2.61 ERA since the break after going 29-33 with a 4.66 ERA before it.

Newly acquired catcher Alex Avila, who made his Cubs debut, said Arrieta was as good as advertised and compared him to former teammates such as Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Chris Sale.

‘‘He’s like those guys,’’ Avila said. ‘‘When they’re on the mound, you expect good outings, you expect consistency. You prepare for that.’’

Arrieta said to prepare for more — not just from him, but from the whole new-look team — and referred to Rizzo’s good-vibe comments.

‘‘It’s something that’s palpable in the dugout, in the clubhouse, on the field,’’ Arrieta said. ‘‘We’re in a really good spot. We feed off of each other, and that’s what championship teams do. And I think we’re going to continue to do so.’’

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

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