Chicago Cubs: Jake Arrieta of old has returned with a vengeance

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 26: Jake Arrieta
CHICAGO, IL - JULY 26: Jake Arrieta /

After an up-and-down first half, Jake Arrieta has returned to his Cy Young-caliber form, dominating opponents during his five July starts.

Rumor has it that the Chicago Cubs remain interested in acquiring a starting pitcher before the trade deadline. Although a deal could still occur, the team’s current starting pitchers have started heating up as of late.

Cubs starting pitchers ended the first half with a 29-33 record and 4.66 ERA; for the sake of comparison, the 2016 team ended the first half with a 42-24 record and 3.09 ERA. While the rotation had a disastrous start to the season, things have improved drastically since the All Star break.

Since the break, the Cubs’ rotation is 9-0 with a 2.50 ERA, a closer resemblance to last year’s squad. While every starter has improved his performance and acquiring José Quintana has helped, Jake Arrieta’s resurgence cannot go unnoticed.

Former Cy Young winner struggles out of gates

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Arrieta stumbled out of the gate this season following two dominant seasons in 2015 and 2016. His 4.35 ERA in the first half is far from his 3.10 ERA from last season. To make matters worse, his fastball velocity dipped from 94.6 MPH in 2015 to 92.1 MPH this season.

Essentially, Arrieta’s sluggish start was cause for concern, especially considering he is 31-years-old and an impending free agent. Him struggling left a tremendous void in the Cubs starting rotation, as he has been a large part of the Cubs’ success over the past few seasons.

Fortunately for the Cubs, though, Arrieta has completely flipped the script since the start of July. In five starts this month, he is 3-1 with a 2.25 ERA, striking out 23 batters in 32 innings. Opponents have hit just .161 against him this month.

Arrieta’s improvements go deeper than the numbers

While his record and ERA are impressive, the fact that Arrieta has been pitching deep into games is just as important. Of his five June starts, Arrieta failed to finish five innings three times. The exact opposite has occurred during his five July starts.

Arrieta has pitched 7, 5 2/3, 6 2/3, 6 and 6 2/3 innings, respectively, during his five starts this month. Not allowing more than three earned runs in each of those starts matters. At the same time, Arrieta eating innings benefits the team tremendously.

With how many short starts the entire starting rotation has delivered this season, the Cubs bullpen has been counted on to save the day frequently. Although the team’s relievers are fifth in the MLB with a 3.44 ERA, pitching many innings is taxing.

Arrieta (and the entire starting rotation, frankly) pitching as well as he has recently has meant less reliance on the bullpen to bail the team out. Essentially, Arrieta and the rotation pitching better has had a team-wide effect.

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Although the sample size is small, it seems evident that Arrieta has returned to the form many have come to expect of him. As long as this is the case, the Cubs rotation should be in a great place during the second half and potentially into October.