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'A different cat,' Arrieta keeps purring in finale

MILWAUKEE -- The Jake Arrieta for NL Cy Young bandwagon continued to roll Friday night, all the way into its final regular-season stop.

It is impossible to diminish the rare and historic quality of Arrieta's work over the last three-plus months. His 0.75 ERA since the All-Star break is the lowest post-All-Star break ERA in Major League history. In his 20 starts since June 21, Arrieta has an ERA of 0.86, not to mention a 16-1 record. His 22 victories are the most by a Cub pitcher since Ferguson Jenkins won 24 in 1971. His 1.77 ERA for the season is the best for a Cubs qualifying pitcher since Grover Cleveland Alexander put up a 1.91 in 1920.

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Arrieta finished his regular-season work at Miller Park as the Cubs defeated the Milwaukee Brewers, 6-1. He was masterful as usual. He gave up no runs on two hits, walked none and struck out seven. He was limited to six innings only to preserve him for his next start, which will be against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser on Wednesday. He's the first pitcher to win at least 22 games in a season since Justin Verlander won 24 in 2011, and the first in the NL since Brandon Webb won 22 in '08.

"Tremendous," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Watching from the side you could see the explosive stuff. If that did not clinch his award I don't know what would. That had to be the clincher. Another quality start, a dominating performance. For me, that should put the icing on the cake right there."

Yes, there is Zack Greinke of the Dodgers with a 1.68 ERA. But nobody has put together a stretch like Arrieta has. The Cubs' rise has been directly tied to Arrieta's emergence as a dominating pitcher. Greinke, conversely, pitches for a team that was expected to win the NL West. How many people expected the Cubs to have the third best record in the National League? They don't get to this lofty level without Arrieta's dominant performances.

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To the opposition, Arrieta has become a very difficult puzzle that every fifth day defies a solution.

"He's in such a sweet spot right now of what he's able to do on a consistent basis," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "He's able to repeat four plus-pitches whenever he wants. And there's just a lot for the hitter to handle. It's too much almost for the hitter to handle right now when he executes. He's got everything working. He's executing.

"It becomes a big challenge for the hitter to get a pitch to hit in an at-bat. Maybe on the night you get one pitch to hit. If you foul it off are you going to get a pitch to hit? He's not giving you that. He's in a zone right now, there's no question about it. He's in that place where everybody tries to get."

Early in the year, Maddon predicted very good things from Arrieta, but what Arrieta produced has exceeded all reasonable expectations.

"I can't tell you that I expected all of this, but I expected really good," Maddon said. "He's taken everything to another level this year.

"His stuff is different, just the way the fastball moves combined with the velocity. And then the other pitches; the slider, I love his curveball, which he doesn't throw that often, and now the changeup has been introduced."

Success has not changed Arrieta, and Maddon figures this is part of the reason Arrieta succeeds. Maddon described a scene from Friday afternoon, sitting on the team bus outside the team hotel.

Arrieta drives up with his wife and two children, one of whom is an infant. Arrieta is unloading the car with the baby, the car seat, "whatever he's asked to carry."

"Not too many guys do that," Maddon said. "Not many guys winning 20 games do that stuff. That, to me, explains him. He's a different cat. He definitely hears his own beat and he knows what this is all about, and he knows what works for him. He's the same [on and off the field] and I like that."

"Before I get to the field, I've got to be Dad," Arrieta said. "We just got back from doing a little shopping. The kids need jackets. It's getting a little cold. Summer's gone up here in this part of the country. Had to get some stuff to keep the kids warm."

There was something to be said, Arrieta noted, for being a regular guy and a good teammate, as opposed to playing the star.

"I want to be the same guy every day, regardless of what's going on off the field, on the field," he said. "Show up and be consistent for my teammates, both in my performance and just being a good person. I think those kinds of things that you take serious in your life off the field carry over on the field. That's the only way I know how to do it."

Based on Jake Arrieta's unprecedented run of dominant pitching, that is also the way to become the best pitcher in the National League in 2015.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for
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