Anyone still claiming win-loss records as a comprehensive statistic in assessing pitching performance will need to distract those in disagreement from tuning in for this mound matchup.
Jake Arrieta and Jonathon Niese are both unbeaten, but one has given up four times the earned runs of the other in 7 2/3 fewer innings.
They square off Tuesday night as the Chicago Cubs try for continued road dominance over the Pittsburgh Pirates, while Arrieta attempts to become the second pitcher ever to go 26 straight starts without giving up more than three runs.
Arrieta (5-0, 1.00 ERA) is 16-0 with a 0.69 ERA in 18 regular-season starts since last losing on July 25.
The latest bumped his winning streak to eight starts for the second time in those 18. The last Cubs pitcher to go beyond that was Milt Pappas' 11-start winning streak in 1972, and Arrieta is the first to win his first five starts of a season since Greg Maddux in 2006.
The team's 18-game winning streak in his starts is tops in baseball since Atlanta won 23 straight Kris Medlen starts from 2010-12.
However, the reigning NL Cy Young winner did see his MLB-record streak of 24 straight quality starts come to an end in Thursday's 7-2 home win over Milwaukee. It was the longest since Bob Gibson went 26 straight in 1967-68 to punctuate the argument for a lowered mound.
Control is to blame for Arrieta not putting himself in position to match that. The right-hander walked four for a second straight outing, and while the first was a no-hitter, he was limited to five innings against the Brewers despite surrendering just a run and three hits.
“All I can say is he's human,” catcher David Ross told MLB's official website.
Barely. Even Gibson gave up more than three runs on his mound-altering run – five in nine innings of a loss to the Cubs.
Arrieta still hasn't given up four runs or more in 25 regular-season outings since June 16, going 21-1 with a 0.89 ERA. In 13 of those he hasn't allowed a run. The only pitcher in data available to 1913 to go 26 starts without giving up four runs once overlapped with Gibson in that pitcher-dominant era. It was the less-lauded Chris Short, who was 10-11 with a 2.13 ERA in 26 straight in '67-68.
The last time Arrieta saw the Pirates, his five-hit, 11-strikeout shutout pushed the Cubs through to the NLDS in a 4-0 wild-card win. He's 7-1 with a 1.46 ERA in 10 career starts against Pittsburgh.
Josh Harrison (1 for 13), Gregory Polanco (3 for 20), Francisco Cervelli (3 for 16) and Starling Marte (4 for 21) have struggled against him, but Matt Joyce (7 for 14) could find his way into the lineup.
While Arrieta has allowed four runs or more four times in 33 starts, Niese (3-0, 5.08) has done so in four of five this season. His teammates have masked it with a 8.89 run support average.
A 4.76 ERA in 10 starts against the Cubs has resulted in a more realistic 3-6 record. Jason Heyward is 9 for 28 with two home runs against Niese but is day to day with an injured wrist, while Anthony Rizzo is 2 for 17.
Chicago (18-6) opened the season series with Monday's 7-2 win to again avoiding losing consecutive contests for the first time this year. It was the second straight game there was a bit of a dust-up between dugouts.
“Boys being boys,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Regardless of result Tuesday, the Cubs will be the first team since the 2003 New York Yankees to start a season without consecutive losses through 25 games, and no NL team has done it since Atlanta went 30 in 1999. Both clubs lost in the World Series.
A win would put Chicago 13 games over .500 in 25 games or fewer for the first time since the 1969 team did it in 24.
Including the playoff game, the Cubs have won three straight over the Pirates (15-11) with two runs allowed, as well as five in a row in Pittsburgh.
This will be the third time in four overall meetings the Pirates have seen Arrieta with him holding them scoreless in 16 straight innings.