Barring something unforeseen, and being a bit fatalistic, today is our last #ArrietaDay. And that’s on two fronts. The Cubs don’t look like making this a series at all, and it seems highly unlikely that Jake will then stay in free agency. Sure, we all dream of him accepting a three- or four-year deal because he loves it here so much. But that doesn’t happen with Boras clients who will almost certainly have at least the Astros, Giants, Angels, maybe Mariners and more offering five, six, maybe even seven years in what might be Jake’s only opportunity to seriously cash in.
The past season and a half…well, it’s been interesting. It’s been up and down. But if tonight is going to be just for the sake of enjoying one last baseball game, I want to enjoy watching Arrieta one last time. And I hope he has one last raw power performance in him.
#ArrietaDay actually started in 2014, despite what a lot of people think. While 2014 saw the call-ups of Javy Baez, Jorge Soler, and Kyle Hendricks, and bounce-back seasons from Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, it can’t be argued that Jake was the most fun part of that season. You forget sometimes, but even with missing the first couple weeks of that season, he wouldn’t make his first start until May 3rd, that Jake was a 5.0 fWAR pitcher that year. He had a 2.25 FIP.
But this isn’t about the numbers. It was about every fifth or sixth day being actively excited to watch a Cubs game. Not to read about reports from the minors or to see if Rizzo would do something or if Starlin would finally “get it,” or whatever else we hung onto then. When Arrieta took the hill, it was obvious even after just a few starts, that the Cubs had something. And on those days, it felt like the Cubs were powerful. Yeah, the lineup was still a mess. It wasn’t close to the finished article. But when Jake pitched, whoever was in the other dugouts, you knew he was going to fuck them up.
Foreshadowing what was to come, he took a run at a couple no-hitters that year. One in Fenway, one here in Wrigley against the Reds that I was at that Brandon Phillips broke up in the 8th. They weren’t even close that night. Jake could have thrown 13 innings and never have been threatened.
When Jon Lester signed, and some in the baseball world wondered how you could toss that much money at a pitcher who wasn’t the prototypical ace, those of us who actually watched the Cubs in 2014 smiled knowingly and said to ourselves, “We already have an ace.”
Jake showed them early in 2015, and never stopped. That feeling of raw power and confidence that was born and grew in 2014 simply spilled over in ’15. It wasn’t that the Cubs were now powerful on the days he pitched. They were untouchable. The whole team took on that swagger that Jake had when he walked off the mound. “You’re not beating me,” it seemed to say, “and I’m a little insulted you’re even trying.”
And yet, even when we knew the Cubs couldn’t lose when Arrieta was on the mound, it was still a thrill to see just how ridiculous it got. He threw six or seven shutout innings like he was taking out the trash. Batters missed his pitches by a foot or more. And it was so simple, so easy-looking, and then he’d strut off the mound and we honestly couldn’t wait for him to get back out there.
The other-worldly performances all rolled into each other, him leading the Cubs through their surge down the stretch. The glow of his starts seemed to spill into the next game, and maybe even the one after that. He capped it off by staring down a 98-win Pirates team on the road and not even giving them a sniff. And it looked like he didn’t even break a sweat.
That feeling rolled into the first half of last year, but of course something that powerful can’t last that long. Jake struggled to find his control in the back half of ’16. Suddenly that feeling of invincibility was shattered, and eventually Jake starts became uneasy.
But he was still able to find it in two games in Cleveland. Maybe they weren’t Vintage Jake, but they were more than good enough. And he was ready in Game 7 if needed. And I really have no doubts he would have put up zeroes then too if he had to.
We saw it this year in fits and starts, but it won’t ever be the same. But for two and a half seasons there, maybe a little more, Jake was the most entertaining Cubs pitcher we’ve ever seen. Sure, Wood had ’98. But even that came with injury and the learning curve of a rookie. He blew out his arm the next year, and the following seasons were basically us watching between our fingers. By the time he put it all together, for the eight minutes that he did, we had a new toy in Mark Prior. And he burned out just as quickly.
But Jake… when it was his day you had just a little more bounce in your step. If you were going to the game you almost ran to get there. For two to three seasons, we had our own Pedro/Clemens in Boston, or Kershaw in LA, King Felix in Seattle, or Doc in New York. One day, even with the vagaries of baseball from day-to-day, where it’s a sure thing. Because there is no surer thing than a pitcher at the top of the game. One day per week, sometimes two, where the best hitters in the world were made to look utterly helpless. Where on guy stood alone in the baseball world and everyone watched, and he made it worth that attention.
Give us one more, Jake. Just for the road.