Jake Arrieta became the first pitcher in the majors to win 15 games Thursday night, putting him in some elite Cubs company.
According to Elias, the last Cubs pitcher to become the first 15-game winner was Greg Maddux in 1988. It happened four other times in Cubs history, too: 1918 (Hippo Vaughn), 1927 (Charlie Root), 1942 (Claude Passeau) and 1977 (Rick Reuschel).
But that’s not the only comparison to Maddux that Arrieta achieved Thursday.
His last outing was his 12th consecutive “quality start,” matching a streak not seen on the North Side since Maddux did it in 1992. That season, it’s worth mentioning, was a Cy Young year for Maddux.
All of this begs the question: Is Arrieta the best Cubs pitcher since Maddux was traded to the Braves after the 1992 season?
The Cubs ace — and yes, Arrieta has been the team’s ace this season — was dominant in a 7-1 win against the Braves. He allowed just four hits in six shutout innings to lower his season ERA to 2.30.
Braves batters put 15 balls in play against him, and every one of them was hit on the ground. He’s the first pitcher in 10 years to go six innings without surrendering so much as a fly ball.
The Cubs have had some good pitchers — or more accurately, some good seasons — in the 23 years since Maddux was traded.
If Arrieta (15-6) keeps his pace up, he’ll have given the Cubs back-to-back seasons with at least 10 wins and an ERA under 3.
Carlos Zambrano was arguably the previous claimant to the title of best since Maddux. Zambrano’s best season was 2004, when he went 16-8 with a 2.75 ERA. Zambrano never had another season with an ERA under 3.00, but he was very good for an eight-year stretch from 2003-10.
Mark Prior went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts in 2003. At 22 years old, Prior had thrown one of the best seasons in Cubs history, but he was never close to that good again. Injuries forced him out of the game after his age 25 season.
Kerry Wood went 14-11 with a 3.20 ERA and 266 strikeouts in that same 2003 season. Wood posted three seasons of 10 wins or more for the Cubs but never had an ERA under 3.20 as a starter.
This conversation is certainly premature given that A) the 2015 season isn’t over and B) Arrieta is only in his second Cubs season. But he’s been terrific enough that asking the question and making his case are fair game.
It’s a bar conversation Joe Maddon would love.