MESA, Ariz. – Here in the land of outsized hopes and sun-stroked dreams, anything is possible. Well, almost anything. The 2015 Jake Arrieta is not possible again. The Big Bang happened only once.
That’s not being negative. That’s being positively truthful. The Cubs could get another marvelous season from their ace, maybe even another Cy Young year to match the one he had last year. But they’re not going to see what they saw out of him in 2015.
That potentially is a good thing. Stick with me here.
Arrieta’s second half was ridiculous – a 12-1 record and a major-league record 0.75 earned-run average. That included a no-hitter against the Dodgers. His only loss came against the Phillies when Cole Hamels no-hit the Cubs. In his final 20 regular-season starts, he had a 0.86 ERA. No one else in major-league history has had an ERA below 1.00 in the last 20 starts of a season.
If it makes you feel any better, Cubs fans, Arrieta also questions whether anybody will do what he did after the 2015 All-Star break.
“I was messing around with a few of my buddies saying, ‘I don’t know if the second-half ERA will ever be broken,’ ” he said. “You look at the guys like Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, some of these guys that had incredible seasons a long, long time ago. … That’s a lot of baseball that’s been played.
“It seems like the way the game’s going, I just don’t know if that mark will ever, ever be trumped. But time will tell.’’
Last year, Arrieta led the National League in victories (22), starts (33), complete games (four), shutouts (three), hits per nine innings (5.9) and home runs per nine innings (0.4). He had a 1.77 ERA.
And that’s bad? No, that’s good. But here’s why you likely won’t see him replicate some of those stats and why that could be a very good thing for the Cubs:
Manager Joe Maddon said Saturday that, if the team is winning in the latter stages of games with Arrieta on the mound, the Cubs will go to the bullpen. That’s in answer to the right-hander’s struggles in the postseason, when, by his own admission, his fuel tank was running low. He gave up four runs in 5 2/3 innings in a victory over St. Louis in a division series, then gave up four runs in five innings in a loss to the Mets in the NL Championship Series. His regular-season innings had jumped from 156.2 in 2014 to 229 in 2015.
The Cubs want him fresh for the playoffs, and Arrieta says he gets it — now.
“Last year, my mindset was, I want the eighth and the ninth inning every time out,’’ he said. “Looking back on it, toward the end of the season – well, my last two starts specifically – I had a noticeable point there where I could tell I was a little out of gas. Going into this season, it’s obviously very wise to monitor things early in the season to preserve things for October.’’
Or, as he put it later, “(Going eight or nine innings) looks good on paper, but a ring looks a little bit better.’’
Baseball-Reference.com projects Arrieta to go 15-7 with a 2.61 ERA in 2016. That would be considered very good by any reasonable standard. We’re not dealing with reasonable standards here. We’re dealing with Jake Arrieta and a public that wants a big helping of seconds.
“That’s what I don’t want this year,’’ Cubs catcher Miguel Montero said. “I don’t want people looking at him like he’s got to put up those numbers again or got to do better than that. Those are hard numbers to put up.
“Jake is capable of maybe putting up the numbers. I really hope he will do it even better, but you know it’s hard. It’s hard to repeat. Even if he falls a little short of what he did last year, it’s going to be a really, really good year. Who can do that back-to-back years?’’
Nobody. OK, a tease: It would take someone with Arrieta’s arm, command and mindset.
“He’s a different cat mentally,’’ Montero said. “When he gets on the mound, he’s really locked in. He’s got that demeanor on the mound. He knows he’s good. He doesn’t give credit to the hitters. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t respect them. It means he believes in his ability, in what he’s capable of doing. That’s what gets him to the next level: ‘I don’t care who’s hitting. I’m right here.’ His mound presence is Cy Young.’’
That mound presence might be on the bench in the eighth and ninth innings this season. And that could be a very good thing for the Cubs.