Chicago Cubs: Top 10 single-season pitching performances (Part II)

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 18: Jake Arrieta #49 of the Chicago Cubs receives a standing ovation after being relieved in the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game four of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field on October 18, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 18: Jake Arrieta #49 of the Chicago Cubs receives a standing ovation after being relieved in the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game four of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field on October 18, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Chicago Cubs’ Mark Prior: 2003

Not much can be said about the 2003 season on the Northside of Chicago. A season of many ups and certifiably, downs, without breaking the final result down to the unspoken singular moment, the bright spot was 22-year-old Mark Prior and the ridiculous season he had in a Cubs uniform.

In a starting rotation anchored by the likes of Kerry Wood, Matt Clement, and Shawn Estes, Prior led the rotation in a significant way. He started 30 games, finishing a whopping 18-6 with a video game level 2.43 ERA. Prior surpassed the 200-inning threshold as well, posting the second highest total behind just 22-year-old Carlos Zambrano.

Most impressively, Prior recorded a career-best 2.47 FIP while striking out 28.4% of the batters he faced. He finished his season with a 7.4 bWAR, good for fourth overall among pitchers and sixth overall among all players. Prior also finished as an All-Star, as well as third in National League Cy Young voting and top ten in MVP voting.

In his second game of the 2003 season, Prior pitched a complete-game shutout versus the Montreal Expos, allowing only four hits while recording 12 strikeouts. Two starts later, Prior again finished a complete-game, this time allowing just one run in a victory versus the Pittsburgh Pirates. In total, Prior finished 2003 with four complete games and a fifth game where he pitched into the ninth inning.

When it came time for the postseason, Prior did not let off the gas. In three postseason starts, Prior pitched 23 1/3 innings, compiling a ludicrous 2.31 ERA. Each of his starts saw Prior go at least seven innings while not allowing more than three runs. The first postseason start of Prior’s career finished with a complete game, where he allowed just one run and struck out seven.

A myriad of injuries would lamentably derail Prior’s career, as he lasted only three more seasons in the big leagues, officially retiring in 2013 after attempting to work his way back. In many ways, however, that 2003 season will live on in Cubs lore not for how it finished but through the magic Prior brought to the Windy City and how for one glorious season, he carried the team on his back.

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