Arrieta, Cubs snap Pirates' 8-game win streak
CHICAGO — Right-hander Jake Arrieta was a nightmare for the Pirates on Sunday night. When the playoffs roll around, he could be a full-blown terror.
In a prime-time showdown of two clubs jockeying for playoff position, Arrieta gave up only one hit in seven innings to power the Chicago Cubs to a 4-0 victory.
Arrieta struck out nine and flirted with a perfect game until the seventh, when Gregory Polanco hit a leadoff single into left field. It was the only hit of the game for the Pirates, who had their eight-game winning streak snapped.
In the second inning, Arrieta ripped a solo homer off Pirates right-hander A.J. Burnett. Those two pitchers have started four games against each other this season. Arrieta won three of them.
Since the All-Star break, Arrieta (21-6) has allowed nine earned runs in 1011⁄3 innings — a 0.80 ERA that's on pace to be a big league record.
If the Pirates wind up in the National League wild-card game, they will face Arrieta again. Can they gain an edge from seeing him in two starts just 11 days apart?
“I don't think you can ever get any advantage when you're facing a guy who's that good,” third baseman Aramis Ramirez said. “He's got 21 wins for a reason. He's got a sub-2.00 ERA in over 200 innings. So, it's not only us. He's been good against everybody in the league. If we do face him in the wild-card game, we'll have to battle.”
Coming off an 8-2 road trip, the Pirates are 41⁄2 games ahead of the Cubs for the top NL wild-card spot.
The Pirates are three games behind first-place St. Louis in the NL Central. With those teams set to open a three-game series Monday at PNC Park, the Cardinals' magic number to clinch the division is four.
“We had a really good road trip,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “A lot of good things are going on. Guys are confident.”
Yet, to keep their fading hopes of winning the division alive, the Pirates must sweep the Cardinals.
“Must-see baseball,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “We'd love to see Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday sellouts for the first time in PNC Park history this week.”
The Cubs already have been eliminated from the division race. The Pirates' magic number to host the wild-card game is three.
In his fourth outing since coming off the disabled list, Burnett overcame a rocky start. He worked six innings, gave up two runs and seven hits and struck out five.
“I think I got loose and my focus got better,” Burnett said. “It took me a little bit longer than normal ... but I was able to make pitches with guys on base.”
Burnett (9-6) threw 18 pitches in the first inning — and displayed increasing agitation with umpire Rob Drake's strike zone — as the Cubs took a 1-0 lead.
Dexter Fowler drew a leadoff walk, went to second on a grounder and scored on Kris Bryant's single up the middle.
Anthony Rizzo walked on four pitches and Starlin Castro reached on a slug-bunt single to load the bases with one out. Burnett fired curveballs and struck out Jorge Soler on a foul tip.
With the strikeout, Burnett became the 32nd pitcher with 2,500 strikeouts in his career.
With one out in the second, Arrieta launched a sinker over the wall in right-center field. It was Arrieta's second home run of the season and earned him a curtain call from the sellout crowd of 40,617.
“He can hit,” Burnett said. “I left one over (the plate), and he hit it. I mean, I got one this year. It happens. Heck, he almost hit two of 'em.”
In the sixth, Arrieta smacked a towering fly ball that Andrew McCutchen caught with his back scraping the ivy on the center-field wall.
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.