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Arrieta deals again, promises more down stretch as Cubs move into 1st

Jake Arrieta is on a monthlong run and sees even more when he looks ahead at the rest of the season.

Jose Quintana, sure.

But as the Cubs continue their post-break roll into this weekend’s showdown with the Brewers, get a load of the other impressive starting pitcher the Cubs have added this month.

Jake Arrieta, the former Cy Young winner, took a 4.67 ERA into July, failing to pitch five innings in three of his previous four starts — with the Cubs’ playoff vibe fading as fast as Arrieta’s apparent chances to cash a nine-figure check as a free agent at the end of the year.

Fast forward to Arrieta’s final start of July.

The right-hander returned to familiar territory when he took a no-hitter into the fifth, facing the minimum through 13 batters, on the way to an 8-3 victory over the White Sox on Wednesday at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Suddenly, he’s a 10-game winner with an ERA that dipped under 4.00 until the last batter he faced, No. 1-ranked MLB prospect Yoan Moncada, hit his first career homer with two out in the seventh.

Just as suddenly, he’s as big a reason as any that the Cubs are off to a 10-2 start since the All-Star break — and back in sole possession of first place in the NL Central for the first time since May, a half-game ahead of the Brewers.

“I still feel like I haven’t pitched my best yet,” said Arrieta, who relied heavily on a sinker early and mixed changeups and curveballs for out pitches as the game progressed. “And that’s a good feeling.

“I have a lot of weapons, and I feel good I’m able to command the ball well.”

Arrieta (10-7) allowed only two hits, including a fifth-inning double that turned into a run, in his fourth quality start of July — with his free-agent prospects starting to trend at the same rate as the Cubs’ postseason prospects.

He’s 3-1 with a 2.25 ERA in five starts this month — and has been a big part of the starting rotation’s surge since the break (9-0, 2.50 ERA).

Two starts ago in Baltimore, Arrieta summed up his second-half mission in what figures to be his final season with the Cubs and the closing of the two-year window the front office identified when it shopped big before the 2016 season.

“I don’t want to leave,” he said. “But if I have to leave, I don’t want to leave without another ring.”

As rumors continue to swirl around the Cubs’ long-shot chance to acquire former Cy Young winner and MVP Justin Verlander from the Tigers, it’s their own Cy Young winner poised for a big finish to his Cubs career.

“If there’s a situation where we can get another guy and not lose any key players, it might work in our favor,” Arrieta said. “But I think we’ve got the pieces to get it done.

“When we traded [with the Sox] for Quintana, that’s a huge addition to our ballclub, as we’ve seen in his past couple starts.

“We’re a great team right now.”

Arrieta said he has big plans for a big finish. In 2015, that meant a historic personal run that keyed a second-half run for the team that led to 97 wins and a surprising playoff spot.

“I’m going to continue to get stronger as the year progresses,” he said. “I feel like my best baseball, my best pitching, is still ahead of me.

“And I’m ready for it.”

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.



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