That two-game beat-down at the hands of the Detroit Tigers didn’t stop the Cubs sales department from letting season-ticket holders know Thursday they could start buying playoff tickets.
It also didn’t stop Jake Arrieta from renewing the weeks-old debate over whether he should get the Game 1 playoff start over $155 million, October-tested Jon Lester – or from putting another game of distance on the Giants for the National League’s last playoff slot.
His six scoreless innings to beat the Atlanta Braves 7-1 Thursday night snapped a three-game losing streak.
“My mindset was to come out and put a stop to that,” said Arrieta after earning his fourth consecutive victory and ninth in 10 decisions.
Arrieta (15-6), who leads the majors in wins, improved to 7-1 this season after a Cubs los.
“When you have stoppers, you can really never get into a losing streak,” said catcher Miguel Montero, who compared Arrieta to elite pitchers he caught earlier in his career, including Hall of Famer Randy Johnson and in-his-prime All-Star Dan Haren. “He’s right there. He’s one of the best I’ve caught.”
About the only disagreeable part of Arrieta’s outing Thursday was the fact he was pulled after six innings at 107 pitches – part of manager Joe Maddon’s ongoing effort to monitor his workload as he reaches uncharted territory in innings pitched (career high 168 so far).
“I wasn’t really thrilled with six innings,” said Arrieta, who had a lengthy face-to-face with Maddon in the dugout after the hook.
“Our expectations are to play longer this year,” Maddon said. “And he’s not done that. So I want him to be well for that moment. Regardless of how they feel right now you’ve got to make those decisions.”
Arrieta, who might be the best-conditioned player on the team, scoffed at the mention of his career high innings total.
“I don’t think anybody really thinks it’s an issue,” he said. “I definitely don’t.”
If Arrieta didn’t look like a Cy Young candidate before Thursday, he let other candidates know he’s coming the way he pitched against the Braves just ahead of scheduled starts against contenders in San Francisco and Los Angeles next week.
“There’s no question he is. We’ve watched it all year,” Maddon said. “He’s been really, really consistent, with high-end stuff. It’s not like it’s a coincidence he’s pitched this way.”
Arrieta’s 2.30 ERA boosts him to third in the league, behind former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke (1.58) and last year’s Rookie of the Year, Jacob DeGrom (1.98). He’s among the leaders in every significant NL pitching category.
“I’m not worried about it,” he said of any Cy Young candidacy, or his lofty wins total. “The only thing that matters really is getting back on track as a team.”
And that Game 1 playoff start? Possibly in a one-and-done wild-card game? Possibly on the road against Pittsburgh ace Gerrit Cole?
“Everybody wants to pitch in the postseason,” said Arrieta, who never has (compared to 12 postseason starts for Lester). “At this point in time we still don’t intend to be a wild card. We still think we can win our division.”
They trail first-place St. Louis by 8 ½ games, second-place Pittsburgh by 4, with 43 to play.
“We’re still in a position where we can jump some guys if we can get hot and we can have some good fortune with the teams ahead of us,” he said. “The mindset still remains the same of trying to win the division.”
Note – All-Star rookie third baseman Kris Bryant, who fouled a ball off his foot Wednesday night, left Thursday’s game after five innings. Maddon said he gave him the rest of the night off because of the big lead and would have left him if the game was close.