You could call this the Chicago Cubs‘ final come-from-behind victory of 2015. Halfway through the year, Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta was presumably a distant second or even third behind Los Angeles Dodgers star Zack Greinke as the best pitcher this season in the National League, but Arrieta went on a second-half tear few have seen before overtaking Greinke to win his first Cy Young Award, which was announced Wednesday evening. Like a horse gaining ground with every stride, Arrieta did the same through every start.
It began a few outings before his no-hitter, in late August, but that performance — on the national stage on Sunday Night Baseball and in front of Greinke and Clayton Kershaw — vaulted him into the running for the Cy Young. What was once Greinke’s to win became a two-horse race. The no-hitter was just the beginning of a torrid run that included four more shutout performances in his final six starts. He went from an also-ran to the winner.
His catcher, Miguel Montero, simply stated: “He’s one of the best I’ve caught.”
Cy Young voters — such as myself — saw a pitcher who got stronger when most get weaker. If anyone can draw a direct line from his workout and diet to a historic end to a season, it’s Arrieta. He prepared his body, mind and right arm for what was to come late in the season and he carried the Cubs to the finish. A post-All-Star break ERA of 0.75 looks like a misprint, but it’s not. His final three starts sealed the deal: 22 innings pitched, 0 runs. Fatigue wasn’t in Arrieta’s vocabulary.
His only loss in the second half came when the Cubs were no-hit. But just like the Cubs since that day in late July when Cole Hamels shut them down, Arrieta went to work helping his team to the postseason. His performance in the wild-card victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates was the frosting on the cake, cementing him as one of the best in the game. Only when reaching 70 more innings than he had ever thrown in a season did he begin to tire, but the Cubs had accomplished more than anyone would have reasonably thought possible. So had Arrieta.
The baseball world knew Arrieta had some of the best stuff in the game, but when the Cubs acquired him in 2013, he wasn’t exactly reaching his potential. The proverbial change of scenery did the trick, and now the team known for trading Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio can claim a lopsided deal of its own as Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger don’t seem destined to win any major awards.
Watching Arrieta from start to start was like watching an artist at work. On a given night it was right-handed hitters being fooled by his slider/cutter dipping away from them, making it an impossible pitch to hit. On another night it might be lefties who were jammed once too often, rolling over ground balls to Anthony Rizzo at first base or simply swinging through them. Then there were the many nights when nobody from either side touched him, paralyzed by his 95 mph fastball or a sweeping curve that started near the batter’s eyes but fell nicely into the lower part of the strike zone. This is why a no-hitter from him seemed inevitable and why another one is likely.
Arrieta’s Cy Young victory capped a busy week for the Cubs as he became the third major award winner for them, with the National League MVP winner to be announced on Thursday. A Cub won’t take that one home, but Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Arrieta are bound to get some votes. Of all the performances from their playoff team — award winners or not — Arrieta’s was simply the best. Pitchers just don’t do what he did over that period of time in the second half. Or at least not many do. In order to beat Greinke and Kershaw, he needed a performance for the ages. He delivered one.