As a Chicago Cub, Jake Arrieta pitched in an elimination game in each of the 2015 and 2016 postseasons. In 2015, Arrieta shutout the Pirates in Pittsburgh in the Wild Card Game, and in 2016, Arrieta held down the Indians in Game Sox of the World Series, striking out 9 over 5.2 innings.
In the abstract, then, there might be no pitcher you’d rather see on the mound tonight for the Cubs in this first of hopefully four straight elimination games.
But what version of Arrieta will we see tonight? That remains an unknown.
After pitching so well in the second half that he took home NL Pitcher of the Month honors in August, Arrieta suffered a strained hamstring in early September, and simply hasn’t been the same since. His most recent outing came in the NLDS, and although it was not disastrous, it was something of a mixed bag. Arrieta lasted just four innings and gave up a whopping five walks, he escaped danger repeatedly, and allowed only one unearned run.
That start, which was supposed to come one week ago today, was pushed to the following day after rains washed out Game Four of the NLDS at Wrigley Field. Maybe that helped, maybe it didn’t, but Arrieta’s command still wasn’t back where it was in August, when he looked like a guy who was going to streak into free agency as the top player on the market.
And it’s that free agency that looms over Arrieta’s start tonight, which very well could be his final one with the Cubs.
Because that process will play out over a number of months, we’ll have plenty of time to get into the particulars of Arrieta’s free agency. For today, really, the only thing is to note that this could be the end of a very positive, productive, fruitful era. Whenever it is that Arrieta walks off that mound tonight – hopefully after nine shutdown innings, of course – he will receive a warm reception from the Wrigley fans who’ve watched emerge as a dominating starter in 2014, a Cy Young winner in 2015, a steadying presence in 2016, and a highly-attractive free agent in 2017.