PITTSBURGH — Jake Arrieta, last season's NL Cy Young Award winner, goes into his final start of the regular season Wednesday night with a 2.85 ERA that would be the best of any starter on 26 other teams.
With the Chicago Cubs — owners of baseball's best record for the first time since 1945 — he ranks only third behind Kyle Hendricks (1.99) and Jon Lester (2.28).
Against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the team Arrieta defeated in last season's NL wild card game, he has certainly been the Cubs' ace — going 9-2 with a 2.44 ERA in 14 starts. The most memorable, of course, came when he threw eight shutout innings as the Cubs eliminated the Pirates from the postseason, 4-0, on Oct. 7, 2015.
Article continues below ...
The atmosphere inside PNC Park won't be nearly as electric Wednesday night, when Arrieta (18-7) attempts to take a strong finish to the season into the postseason against the Pirates (77-80), who won't reach the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
Arrieta is coming off one of his best starts of the season: seven scoreless innings, with 10 strikeouts and five hits allowed, in the Cubs' 5-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday.
“I don't need anything to convince me I can sustain this,” said Arrieta, who, despite being the NL's best pitcher in 2015, figures to start the postseason behind Lester and Hendricks in the Cubs' rotation.
That figures to put him on the road for his first postseason start, which probably wouldn't be a bad idea given his 11-2 record and 3.11 ERA in 14 road starts this season.
The Pirates don't need any convincing of how good Arrieta is, even if he hasn't been able to sustain the 1.46 ERA he had in his first 12 starts against them. In his last two starts against Pittsburgh, Arrieta is 0-1 while allowing six runs in each game.
Pittsburgh starts rookie right-hander Jameson Taillon (4-4), who began the season in the minors but might end it as their top starter. The 24-year-old Taillon has a 3.00 ERA in 10 career starts at PNC Park and has allowed three earned runs or fewer in 14 of his 17 starts to date.
In his most recent start, Taillon gave up three runs in five innings but didn't get the decision as the Pirates came back to beat the Washington Nationals 6-5 on Friday. He gave up three runs and four extra-base hits in the second inning, the only inning in which he allowed any scoring.
“That's a really good lineup,” Taillon said of the NL East champion Nationals.
He'll face another really good lineup in the Cubs (101-56), who are doing little more than counting down to October — they have five games remaining, two in Pittsburgh and three in Cincinnati. Their first 100-win season since 1945 is partly a byproduct of their uncharacteristic domination of the Pirates.
The Cubs' 101 wins, including seven in their last eight games, are the franchise's most since the 1910 team won 104. Of those 101 wins, 14 are against the Pirates.
“Their record speaks for itself,” Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer said. “It's pretty evident they're one of the top teams in baseball and they've got a chance to make a run at it.”