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Arrieta worthy of NL Cy Young Award

Greinke, Kershaw having stellar seasons, but Cubs hurler has 1.00 ERA over last 16 starts

The Phillies had a chance to get Jake Arrieta on Friday, but in the end they didn't come close.

Despite bunching four hits, including rookie Aaron Altherr's home run, in a span of eight early batters, they became just another victim. Arrieta started slowly but was money in the bank once Kris Bryant gave him a lead, nailing down his 19th victory and moving the Cubs closer to the postseason.

This is what Cy Young Award winners do. Arrieta, if he can remain locked in over the next three weeks, should become the first Cub to win the Cy since Greg Maddux in 1992. And make no mistake about it: This guy is locked in.

"Almost robotic," Cubs broadcaster Jim Deshaies said during Friday's telecast of the Cubs' 5-1 win.

Zack Greinke has been the National League Cy Young frontrunner since earning a start in the All-Star Game, and the 2009 AL Cy Young winner has done little to hurt his case since then. He's 8-1 with a 2.21 ERA in 10 second-half starts for the Dodgers, who are riding the Greinke-Clayton Kershaw tandem to an NL West title.

Speaking of Kershaw, he's been pitching like a three-time NL Cy Young Award winner in his prime, going 7-0 with a 1.04 ERA in 10 second-half starts. He's 13-6 with a 2.15 ERA and a league-best 259 strikeouts in 201 innings.

How impressive is that? Most years, those are Cy Young numbers, but as much as they demonstrate that Kershaw remains the gold standard of pitching, they aren't quite as strong as Greinke's 16-3 record and 1.68 ERA in 192 2/3 innings, with only 32 walks and a 0.86 WHIP.

In just about any year, you couldn't go wrong anointing either of the Dodgers' aces as your Cy Young winner. But in 2015, you'd be overlooking the pitching story of the season.

Arrieta's emergence as the new Max Scherzer -- a monster of a man who pounds the strike zone with 95- and 96-mph fastballs and makes elite hitters look feeble with a devastating slider he can throw about five different ways, including one that looks like the nastiest split-finger you've seen -- trumps everything being done in the NL West, where spacious stadiums and tepid lineups have helped produce 12 of the last 16 NL Cy Young Award winners.

Raw numbers do a nice job of telling Arrieta's story. While leading the Majors in wins, he's 19-6 with a 1.99 ERA over a career-high 199 innings. He's struck out 204 while compiling a .194 opponents' batting average and an 0.92 WHIP.

But there's a context to Arrieta's success that must be considered.

When Arrieta became a full-time member of the Cubs' rotation midway through the 2013 season, he was joining a 53-67 team that was in the second year of Theo Epstein's stripped-to-the-studs rebuilding effort. He's pitched for three managers in his three years in Chicago, and his arrival as an ultra-reliable stud -- earning $3.63 million -- has allowed Joe Maddon to return the Cubs to relevance, ahead of schedule.

Signing Jon Lester for $155 million certainly helped. But if the Cubs wind up in the win-or-go-home Wild Card Game, it'll be Arrieta, not Lester on the mound.

That's OK with Lester. He says he thinks Arrieta is "the best pitcher in baseball right now," and he's right.

Video: [email protected]: Arrieta completes his first career no-hitter

The righty's Aug. 30 no-hitter at Dodger Stadium is more than just the cherry on top of his Cy Young case. It's the centerpiece of one of the best extended stretches of pitching in modern history.

The victory at Philadelphia made Arrieta 13-1 with a 1.00 ERA, 115 strikeouts and only 64 hits and 25 walks allowed in 117 innings over 16 starts since June 21. He threw a four-hit shutout against the Twins at Target Field that day, and he has been deadly ever.

Video: [email protected]: Arrieta tosses a four-hit shutout vs. Twins

Entering Friday's start, which was pushed back one day by a rainout, Arrieta had joined Bob Gibson and Luis Tiant as one of only three pitchers in the modern era to pile up 12-plus wins and 100-plus strikeouts in a 15-start stretch in which they kept their ERA under 1.00. Gibson and Tiant did that in 1968, the year pitching was so dominant that MLB lowered the mound.

Arrieta has won his last eight starts, the first Cub to do that since Milt Pappas won 12 in a row in 1972. His ERA could become the lowest for a Cubs qualifier since Lon Warneke posted a 2.00 ERA in 1933.

You'd think Arrieta might be tiring. He was on the disabled list with shoulder soreness last season and had never worked more than 180 innings in a season, but he has earned Maddon's confidence with his zealous dedication to conditioning. He doesn't seem stressed late in games, maintaining his mid-90s fastball the fourth time through lineups.

The Cy Young is his to win, and you'd be silly to bet against him.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for
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