SAN FRANCISCO -- The great Jake Arrieta has now won his last 19 decisions and the Cubs have been victorious in his last 22 starts dating back to this past July 25. He has also pitched two no-hitters during that span.
He's 8-0 with a 1.29 ERA this season after Friday night's 8-1 drubbing of the Giants, and though Cubs manager Joe Maddon called his run of performances "legendary," he said the best for the masterful right-hander is still to come.
"I'm telling you, there's another level we haven't seen yet this year," Maddon said. "His numbers are good, his velocity is good, his spin on the breaking ball is good, changeup's good. Everything is good. But his command has been off.
"Even in the [last] no-hitter, his command was off the first part of that game and he got it after about the fourth inning. Once he gets the feel where the ball's going again, you will have better starts out of him. It's just the truth."
Perish the thought for Major League hitters, already batting only .153 against him.
In truth, Maddon knows from which he speaks. Arrieta was not particularly sharp Friday night, but once the Cubbies put up a five spot in the second inning and knocked out Jake Peavy, Arrieta really didn't even have to break a sweat, ending San Francisco's eight-game winning streak.
"This is another night when I came out with my B stuff," Arrieta said. "I was able to sequence things pretty effectively. The cutter was really flat early in the ballgame. I was able to make some pretty big pitches. I had to adjust on the fly tonight to get better."
Though he was behind in the count against many of the Giants' hitters, he still allowed just a single run on four hits, while walking two and striking out eight in seven innings. He left after throwing 111 pitches.
"He's really set the bar pretty high for himself, but when he's really efficient, he should be throwing 13, 14 pitches per inning," Maddon said. "That's when he's on top of his game. He'll get strikeouts. He gets a lot of weak contact and forces you to swing the bat because it's a strike, but it's a pitcher's strike, not a hitter's strike. He just hasn't been there consistently yet."
The first inning was a case in point. Denard Span drove a 2-0 pitch, opening the inning, to right-center near the 421-foot mark and Jason Heyward made a diving, one-handed catch. Arrieta then walked Joe Panik on five pitches. He fell behind three of the four hitters, yet, the Giants had nothing to show for it.
"I'm at loss for words," Arrieta said about the catch that sent Heyward to the clubhouse with an injured right side. "What he's capable of with the glove in the outfield is amazing."
Maddon has managed a lot of good pitchers in his 11-year career with the Cubs and Rays. Guys like David Price, Matt Garza, Jon Lester and James Shields make the short list. But none of them are anything like Arrieta, Maddon said.
"Of all the good ones I've had, he's the best," Maddon said. "I've never seen anyone do what he's doing right now, I've never seen it. I've never seen anybody this consistent, regarding his entire game, over this period of time. Normally you get a nice month, a nice six weeks, maybe even a nice season. But it's been beyond that.
"It's not nice, it's legendary what he's done to this point. It's different watching from the side. It's not how hitters swing against him, it's how hitters take pitches that are called strikes against them that really indicates how good his stuff is."
To refresh and review, Arrieta won the National League's Cy Young Award last season with a breakout 22-6 record and 1.77 ERA. His wins, games started (33), complete games (four) and shutouts (three) all either led or were tied for the league lead. His ERA didn't make it because Zack Greinke recorded a historic 1.66, pitching for the Dodgers.
The numbers don't mean much to Arrieta right now.
"I want the ring," he said, referring to the Cubs' first World Series victory since 1908.
But he agreed with Maddon's assessment. His performances are only going to get better.
"Well, I mean he's right," Arrieta said. "Timing wise, I'm still not there. It may sound kind of stupid, but personally there's still a little more in the tank. Once I get fine-tuned and have everything working, it's going to get tougher for the opponent.
"But if I have a game like tonight and have to sequence and keep them off balance, I'm capable of doing that also."