At some point, at an unknown time between October of 2013 and May of 2014, Jake Arrieta made the transition. I don’t mean simply transitioning from a starting pitcher just trying to stay in a major league rotation to one of the best pitchers in the game, but transitioning. We have all the evidence we need now. Arrieta was consumed inside a chrysalis, cracking out moments later with a thick beard, washboard abs, and the lats and delts of a Greek god. Jake Arrieta is an Inhuman, and his power is to make hitters look silly.
Tonight’s no-hitter by Arrieta in Cincinnati was just the most recent evidence that there’s alien DNA running through his veins and arteries. If there was ever a concern that something could get in the way of another historic outing, it was that the Cubs were taking too much time between innings scoring runs—16 of them to be exact. Or that Arrieta spent too much time running the bases, as he was 2-for-4 with a walk on the night. The idea that the Reds might overcome the mighty Jake Arrieta? An afterthought. How could they?
And this all, on a night in which Arrieta didn’t even have his best stuff. The final line of nine innings, zero hits, zero runs, four walks and six strikeouts is one that every single pitcher in the game would take in a heartbeat. But for Jake the last few years? It may shock you to find out that, while it’s in his top five of most dominating games, he’s been better. Let’s go ahead and count down the best games of Arrieta’s career, based on Bill James’ Game Score stat.
July 12, 2015 vs. Chicago White Sox; Game Score- 88
The Cubs and White Sox faced off at Wrigley Field last July, with Arrieta matching up against White Sox starter Jose Quintana. The Cubs won the game 3-1 with Dexter Fowler collecting three hits and Kris Bryant hitting a triple. Oh, and Arrieta? He hit a homer off Quintana in the fifth inning, on his way to a complete game. He allowed just two baserunners, a single to Tyler Saladino and a double to Carlos Sanchez. He threw just 106 pitches on the day and 74 of them for strikes, as the Cubs grasped on to their one-game lead on the second National League wild card spot.
October 7, 2015 vs. Pittsburgh Pirates; Game Score- 88
This one gets the tie-breaker ahead of the previous game because of the situation—it was a one-game playoff in Pittsburgh, with the winner moving on to play the St. Louis Cardinals and the loser going home. Arrieta was on top of his game when the Cubs needed him the most, tossing a complete game shutout with five hits, no walks and 11 strikeouts. He got in trouble in the sixth inning when he loaded the basis with just one out, but he got a fantastic double-play turned by Addison Russell and Starlin Castro. The Cubs won the game 4-0 and moved onto the NLDS.
April 21, 2016 vs. the Cincinnati Reds; Game Score- 89
Arrieta didn’t have his best stuff on this night. The four walks are the third-most he’s allowed in a game since the beginning of the 2014 season. He had to throw 119 pitches, and only 71 of them were strikes—a pedestrian 59.6 percent rate. There were more than a handful of hard hit balls that went right to Cubs fielders. But let’s not diminish this; Arrieta’s no-hitter against the Reds gets penciled into history in the place of every dominating “almost no-no” he lost late in a game the last two-plus seasons.
September 22, 2015 vs. the Milwaukee Brewers; Game Score- 91
This one being on the list somewhat surprised me, and I think most will generally be surprised to see it this high up there. My theory as to why? Because it was one of the last regular season starts for Arrieta in the 2015 season, and Cubs fans had grown so used to Arrieta dominating that, at that point, it was sort of ho-hum to see him doing it. This was the game in which Arrieta earned his 20th victory of the year, a 4-0 win over the Brewers at Wrigley Field. He tossed all nine yet again, allowing just three hits, no runs, one walk and 11 strikeouts—lowering his ERA to 1.88 on the season.
September 16, 2014 vs. the Cincinnati Reds; Game Score- 97
Speaking of the dominating “almost no-no” that Arrieta had become known for by the middle of last year, this one takes the cake. With one out in the top of the eighth inning, Brandon Phillips drove a 0-2 pitch into the gap in left-center field that Matt Szczur just couldn’t run down. It was in no way a cheap hit, but it broke up a no-hitter in what was Arrieta’s most flawless pitching performance of his career to date. He finished with a complete game shutout, allowing just the one hit and one walk, striking out 13 batters in a 7-0 Cubs victory.
August 30, 2015 vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers; Game Score- 98
It’s quite possible that Arrieta could someday pitch a game that tops his first no-hitter—although it would be difficult to do. But even if he does, there’s just something very special about the first no-hitter from an historically great pitcher. This game was something magical to witness. Arrieta was on his game early and attacked Dodgers batters with reckless abandon, striking out 12 and walking just one in his nine inning masterpiece. He seemed to actually get better as the game went on, reaching 116 pitches but striking out the side in the ninth. The Cubs won the game 2-0 in an ESPN broadcast that brought Arrieta, and the 2015 Cubs, to the forefront of the national baseball conversation.
Watching Arrieta has been a special treat for Cubs fans, something that has not only been unprecedented in Chicago but also unseen pretty much anywhere else. He’s transformed from a guy whose future in the big leagues was in question to a Cy Young winner in less than two years. It’s unpredictable where Arrieta can possibly go from here. His Inhuman powers seem to get stronger and stronger the more hitters he devours, and at this rate he’s going to be consuming souls with nothing but a mean glare and flex of his pectorals by October.
Lead photo courtesy David Kohl—USA Today Sports.