By: Joseph Rossetti
As a diehard Chicago Cubs fan, heading into the 2015 MLB season I would’ve told you two things: 1-The Cubs have no shot at a postseason berth and 2-Jake Arrieta is not the Cubs’ ace.
If being a Cubs’ fan my entire life has taught me anything, it has taught me to be realistic. The bottom line is that not every year can be “The Year”. In all honesty, I was tired of looking stupid. Cub fans blatantly disregard the talent and experience level of the team and unconsciously look at every season believing that this year, not last year, not next year, not two years from now, but this year, will be the year that the Cubs win the pennant and make a run at the postseason. To say the least I was shocked.
For the first time this decade, the Cubs had a winning record heading into May. The Cubs, who were 13-10 in the month of April came out playing at a level that was unseen in recent years, especially after coming off of their worst start of the decade in 2014, when the team was 9-17 in April.
I think a lot of this can be credited to manager, Joe Maddon. Maddon had to make some tough decisions regarding the starting lineup this season, mainly in the removal of shortstop Starlin Castro. Growing up, Castro was a hero to me, but in recent seasons he’s been nothing but a detriment to the team. It was almost demoralizing to watch Castro nearly lead the National League in errors committed by a shortstop for four consecutive seasons and because of this I think one of the best things for the team was moving rookie Addison Russell from second base to his natural position of shortstop.
Perhaps even more of the success needs to be credited to the rookies. While the Cubs have traditionally been known as a team where baseball players come to die, it seems as though this year they’ve become a team where baseball players come to flourish. Three of the Cubs’ rookies have made the top 10 in rookie rankings. Rookie third baseman Kris Bryant has proven to be the best rookie power hitter in the Cubs’ 140-season history. Bryant can effortlessly drive the ball out of any ballpark, and leads the team in average, batting .282, and RBIs with 99. Rookie shortstop Russell arrived in the league a bit earlier than expected, so he has some fine tuning to do at the plate, but his defensive prowess has definitely been noticed. Russell has proven to be a better defender than other elite rookie shortstops and is certainly a step up from Castro. Russell has only committed three errors in 188 total chances and already his finesse at the position is noticeable, even in just 47 games started at the position. Rookie Kyle Schwarber has made some noise with his bat. In just his first 61 Major League games, the rookie slammed 16 homers and has undoubtedly had an impact on the Cubs’ offense. In just 214 at bats, Schwarber has driven in 43 runs, which is on pace to match the offensive production of Bryant.
But maybe just as much credit needs to be given to Arrieta. As the season began, it seemed as if the fate of the entire team was in the hands of one pitcher, John Lester. Lester, who the Cubs acquired from Boston, was placed into a position where the entire fan base expected him to turn the team around and lead the Cubs to a successful season as the ace. Unfortunately, as Lester’s 10-12 subpar season with a 3.43 era can attest to, he fell quite short. But as Lester began to fail early in the season, it seemed as if the Cubs had little to no decent pitching. Arrieta who was 10-5 in 2014 and began the 2015 season 4-4 with a 2.03 ERA in April and a 3.99 ERA in May didn’t seem like a likely candidate. But as the season moved into the Allstar break, Arrieta really picked it up and moved to 10-5 with a 2.66 ERA. But what Arrieta has been able to do since the Allstar break is unparalleled in the Major Leagues and has solidified him as the Cubs’ ace. Since the break Arrieta is 11-1 with a 0.80 ERA. This puts him at 21-6 for the season, with a MLB leading 21 wins and a 1.82 ERA (ranked second).
Arrieta has not only stepped up in the Cubs’ organization but he’s done what I believe to be worthy of the Cy Young award. Arrieta’s lone loss of the second half came when Cole Hammels no-hit the Cubs on July 25, but just over a month later, Arrieta made up for this loss with a no-hitter of his own against the Dodgers on Aug. 30.
If Arrieta doesn’t win the Cy Young, that would be an injustice to everything that he’s accomplished this season. Simply put, Arrieta is a creature of habit. It doesn’t surprise me when he carries a no-hitter or a perfect game late into a ballgame, flirting with these two has become sort of an expectation when Arrieta is on the mound. While the Dodgers’ Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw are good, Arrieta is putting up second half numbers that belong in a different era. It’s getting to the point where Cubs’ outfielders can essentially watch the game from the bleachers when Arrieta is on the mound. Since August, Arrieta has been impossibly good, and the voters need to take this into account. Arrieta has really stepped up when it matters. In 11 starts from Aug. 4 through Sunday, Arrieta has had an ERA of 0.44 and has given up four earned runs in 82 1/3 innings. If Arrieta finishes the season with an ERA under 2.00 he’ll be the first Cub to do so since 1920 when Grover Cleveland Alexander did it.
Simply put, if I were the Pirates I’d fear the wild-card game. The Pirates have to face what I would refer to as the hottest team in baseball, with the best pitcher in the Major Leagues on the mound in a one-and-done situation. Arrieta against Gerrit Cole in the wild-card game, a winner-take-all situation, isn’t just what the people want, but it could be so unfair that it could make the MLB reconsider the wild-card “game” and maybe start considering a series.