One of the complete surprises of the season for the Chicago Cubs has been the pitching of starter Jake Arrieta. Acquired last season in a trade with the Baltimore Orioles, Arrieta entered Thursday’s start against the Cincinnati Reds having been one of the better starters in the National League of late. He was also fresh off a winning effort against his former team at Wrigley Field last Friday, a victory that ignited a three-game sweep by the Cubs of the American League East leaders.
So when Arrieta took to the mound Thursday at Cincinnati to face a Reds team that has been struggling so much of late that the Cubs could have threatened the Reds for fourth place in the National League Central had they swept the series, a bad outing wasn’t expected. Unfortunately for the Cubs, a bad outing from Arrieta is exactly what they got. Arrieta lasted just four innings, giving up six runs on six hits. His stuff was still baffling to the Reds at times, considering eight of the 12 outs he recorded were strikeouts. But Arrieta also walked four, something he hadn’t done since he walked five against the St. Louis Cardinals on May 13.
But in reality, Cubs fans shouldn’t be worried over what really was nothing more than an off day for Arrieta. It’s no accident that Arrieta’s two roughest starts of late–today and August 6 at the Colorado Rockies–came in very hitter-friendly parks. At Colorado, Arrieta allowed a whopping nine runs on 13 hits in just five innings, so by comparison, today’s effort wasn’t even that bad. In all the rest of his starts, Arrieta has only allowed as many as four earned runs once, at San Francisco Giants on May 27. It is perhaps not surprising that Arrieta’s three worst starts of the season have all come on the road.
And frankly, Arrieta would have had to have been amazing to get a win today anyway, given that the Cubs couldn’t get on the scoreboard at all until the ninth inning, when rookie Jorge Soler hit an RBI single in this, his second MLB game. He also doubled in the second but was stranded. Soler is 4-for-8 so far in his brief Chicago career. The Cubs were beaten today, 7-2.
Arrieta is likely to bounce back with a strong performance in his next start, if this season’s numbers tell us anything. After the aforementioned San Francisco game, Arrieta started six times in June, throwing 39.1 innings and allowing just four earned runs (0.92 ERA) and 27 hits/walks (0.69 WHIP). That’s as good a stretch as you’ll see from anyone, including Clayton Kershaw. In the three starts before today since the debacle in Colorado, Arrieta pitched to a 1.27 ERA in 21.1 innings, 15 hits/walks (0.70 WHIP). His ability to bounce back from bad starts with good work over a period of several starts is excellent. A repeat of that should carry Arrieta on another strong run in September.