Jake Arrieta has only lost once on the road this year and it came five months ago. The Chicago Cubs are counting on that to remain that way if they’re going to even this NL Championship Series at one game apiece.
Arrieta tries to extend his overall winning streak to 14 games with another dominant performance Sunday night against the New York Mets at Citi Field.
Including the postseason, Arrieta (2-0, 2.45 ERA) has compiled a 0.83 ERA over 15 overall starts since losing to Philadelphia on July 25. The right-hander has also been outstanding on the road, going 12-0 with a 1.18 ERA in 16 starts since a loss at St. Louis on May 7.
That dominance includes allowing one run and striking out seven in eight innings of a 6-1 win in Queens on July 2. He’s 2-0 with a 0.98 ERA in his past four overall meetings with the Mets since losing his first in 2012 with Baltimore.
Arrieta’s transformation into an ace has been obvious to Cubs manager Joe Maddon.
"Biggest, biggest difference is fastball command, period," he said. "He knows where his fastball’s going. Now back then when the Orioles, great stuff. A really good hook, slider, velocity, movement, he really has always been that guy. Now because he knows where his fastball is going, they have to honor the slider, cutter, and his curveball and the other pitches."
Despite getting the win in Game 3 of the division series over the Cardinals, it was a rough outing by Arrieta’s standards as he gave up four runs in 5 2-3 innings of the 8-6 victory. He’s also looking to help the Cubs rebound from Saturday’s 4-2 loss in Game 1 after Jon Lester surrendered four runs and eight hits – two homers – in 6 2-3 innings.
The offense did Lester few favors, totaling five hits while mainly flailing against Matt Harvey, who recorded nine of New York’s 10 strikeouts as Chicago lost to the Mets for the first time in eight meetings in 2015.
"You know, it’s the cream of the crop at this point in time," Arrieta said. "The Mets have had a tremendous year, and we’ve done the same. So it’s going to be a challenging series for both sides. But that’s kind of the expectations you’re under once you get to this point."
New York’s Daniel Murphy is exceeding pretty much everyone’s expectations, hitting .320 with four homers and six RBIs in the postseason. The second baseman’s solo blast off Lester on Saturday gave him one in three straight games, matching the Mets record set by Donn Clendenon in 1969 – the year he was World Series MVP.
"If I knew what I was doing I would have hit more homers during the regular season," said Murphy, who had a career-high 14 during the regular season.
He’s batting .400 over his last seven games against Chicago and was 2 for 6 versus Arrieta this year.
Rookie phenom Noah Syndergaard (0-1, 3.68), who was charged with a 6-1 loss at Chicago opposite Arrieta in his major league debut May 12, follows Harvey for the Mets. The right-hander allowed three runs with six strikeouts and four walks in 5 1-3 innings.
"My mechanics are completely different," Syndergaard said. "I think my mentality out there is a lot different. I’ve been able to go out there with a lot more confidence in myself and getting myself out of certain situations by using necessarily uncomfortable pitches that I might have used at a different time."
Syndergaard should feel very comfortable at Citi Field, where he’s 7-2 with a 2.46 ERA in 12 starts.
He gave up three runs with nine strikeouts in 6 1-3 innings of a 5-2 defeat at Los Angeles in Game 2 of the NLDS on Oct. 10. He tossed a hitless inning of relief in Thursday’s decisive 3-2 Game 5 victory.
"As I look back at what happened this year," Syndergaard said, "I feel like I’ve made a lot of strides and even grown as a better pitcher."
He’ll face Kyle Schwarber for the first time. The rookie slugger is hitting .471 with six RBIs in six games and his four homers tie a Cubs postseason record shared by Alex Gonzalez and Aramis Ramirez in 2003.
Schwarber is trying to join Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria (2008) as the only rookies to hit homers in four straight playoff games.
"You have to stick with your approach and make sure you get your pitch," Schwarber told MLB’s official website.