In 2015 and early 2016, whenever Jake Arrieta took the ball for the Chicago Cubs, you knew how the game was going to go. Odds were, the Cubs would win and the bearded right-hander was going to do something impressive, whether it be fire a no-hitter or simply carve up the opposing lineup from top to bottom.
There was a near-30 game stretch where the only loss Arrieta took came in the form of a Cole Hamels no-hitter at Wrigley. That's right, it took baseball history for the 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner to come out on the wrong end of a decision.
Cubs were near-unbeatable when Jake Arrieta took the mound
From June 21, 2015 to June 1, 2016, Arrieta was otherworldly - perhaps putting together the most impressive run we've ever seen by a starting pitcher. His 1.13 ERA during that 30-game run seems like a typo, or maybe something you've thrown up in a video game playing on rookie when you know all too well your skills far outpace such a low difficulty.
As the 2015 season wore on, it seemed like Arrieta only got stronger. The front portion of that aforementioned 30-start run, he posted a 0.86 ERA over nearly 150 innings of work to close out the regular season, carrying an insane amount of momentum into the 2015 NL Wild Card Game at PNC Park.
All he did there was cement his budding legacy, telling a Pirates fan on Twitter that no matter what the Pittsburgh faithful told themselves, it 'doesn't matter,' promptly following it up with a 113-pitch, 11-strikeout complete game shutout of the 98-win Bucs. While the Cubs fell short in their quest for a pennant, Arrieta brought home the Senior Circuit's top pitching hardware and it was all eyes on him heading into 2016.
Early in the year, it was more of the same from the former TCU hurler: from Opening Day through June 22, 2016, he worked to a 1.74 ERA in 15 starts, holding opponents to a laughingly low .498 OPS during that span. Down the stretch, opposing hitters could finally breathe a sigh of relief as Arrieta finally looked human again - and in his final regular season start of 2016, he got torched for seven runs in a loss to Pittsburgh on the road.
While Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester tend to be the big focuses, especially the former, when it comes to big starting pitching performances that postseason, Arrieta played an important role, as well. Despite Chicago dropping two of his four starts, including one in both the NLDS against the Giants and NLCS against the Dodgers, when the Cubs' backs were against the wall, he delivered.
After dropping Game 1 in Cleveland, Arrieta helped lead the Cubs to a much-needed win in Game 2, pitching into the sixth at Progressive Field and allowing just one run, striking out six and walking three. He took a no-hitter into the sixth, giving him the longest World Series no-hit bid since 1969, a span of nearly 50 years.
In a must-win Game 6, the Cubs bats poured it on against Indians starter Josh Tomlin, hanging a half-dozen runs on the right-hander in support of Arrieta, who struck out nine while once again pitching into the sixth. Of course, Chicago won the game and forced a winner-take-all Game 7 - and we all know how that wound up going.
For those two years, Arrieta was a close to a sure thing as we've seen in decades - and while his second stint on the North Side was largely forgettable, his lights-out run for the team at the peak of its mid-decade run is something that time certainly won't erase.