We Chicago Cubs fans have the slight propensity to go absolutely bonkers at just about everything.
Two wins in row? “World. Series.”
Two losses in a row? “They’ll probably never win another game in my lifetime.”
It’s fun, but tiring doesn’t begin to describe it. The 2015 Cubs have been beyond fun. I would be willing to bet that there are countless Cubs fans who would describe 2015 as the most fun they’ve ever had watching the team from the north side of Chicago.
But don’t think plenty of them weren’t already starting to raise eyebrows just two days ago. I can’t honestly say I wasn’t one of them. The quiet afternoon between the Cubs’ doubleheader with the Pittsburgh Pirates was the most uncomfortable afternoon of the 2015 season. They had dropped the first game, had lost three straight, and, in the span of three days, had seen their “insurmountable” 10-game lead over the San Francisco Giants shrink to 6 1/2.
“Here we go,” a hope-betrayed chorus of Cubs fans muttered across the country.
Another game was waiting Tuesday evening. With another Cubs loss and a Giants win, by the end of Tuesday night, the Cubs wildcard lead would be 5 1/2 games. 5 1/2 games would never have felt so small. You could feel it on the broadcasts, on Twitter, everywhere. No one wanted to admit it, but our confidence in all the talent, in Joe Maddon, in the 2015 Cubs was slipping. The Cubs needed a win. A win wouldn’t clinch the playoff berth, but it would stem the tide of the impending meltdown that seemed so much closer than it had just three days ago.
Then it happened. The Cubs aces came out to play. Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, in the two most important games of the entire season, pitched 17 innings, allowed 3 runs (2 earned), and dominated a Pirates team that was 50-22 at home. Even then, it took a little magic (and some great defense and bullpen work) to get the job done.
If you don’t believe the fan base’s confidence was a little shaken, look up the reaction to these two Cubs wins. There’s little talk of them moving within three games of the Pirates –a more viable reaction given their closeness to Pittsburgh– just pure, beautiful jubilation for a win. A win that everyone, regardless of their confident exteriors, knew the Cubs badly needed.
In September, Lester is 2-1 with a 1.71 ERA –against the Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, and Arizona Diamondbacks. In other words, he’s done it against the two best teams in baseball, and a middling team with one of the best offenses; the Pirates and Cardinals games were on the road. Opponents are hitting just .164 and slugging .233.
Arrieta’s numbers have been well-documented, but because of their absurdity, here they are again. Since his loss to Philadelphia on July 25, Arrieta is 8-0 with a, wait for it, 0.75 ERA. Opposing hitters are clubbing a measly .159, and slugging a disgusting .202.
Collectively, in six starts across September, Lester and Arrieta are 4-0, with a 1.40 ERA, and have allowed just 35 baserunners in 45 innings. This dominance has been essential to the Cubs holding on to their commanding lead in the wildcard, and their ability to still entertain the idea of running down the Pirates.
Simply put, it’s September baseball, and we’re all ecstatic that, for the first time in seven years, it matters. And when it has mattered the most, Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta have emerged as the aces we all hoped they were.