Jake Arrieta is the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner and the recognition was well-deserved. Last season, the Chicago Cubs star’s 22 wins, four complete games, three shutouts, 5.9 hits per nine innings and 0.4 home runs per nine were all best in the game.
Coming into Wednesday, through 14 starts in 2016, the 30-year-old has been even better - on pace to outperform his 2015 with an 11-1 record, a slightly lower ERA (1.74 vs. 1.77) while allowing fewer hits and long balls per nine.
Even Superman has his kryptonite, however. For Arrieta, it appears to be the Cubs’ long-time National League Central Division rival, the St. Louis Cardinals.
In Game 3 of the 2015 NL Division Series, the Cardinals got to Arrieta for four runs in 5 2/3 innings, though a barrage of six Chicago home runs bailed him out.
This season, on May 25th at Busch Stadium, Chicago’s ace had his worst outing of 2016 to date, as he was charged with four earned runs in just five innings.
Just four weeks later, Arrieta would get another shot at St. Louis.
With the juggernaut Cubs looking a bit vulnerable after dropping the first two of their three-game home series against the Cards, manager Joe Maddon looked to his stopper Arrieta to avoid the sweep on Wednesday afternoon.
Once again, Superman showed his mortality.
Patient St. Louis hitters worked up Arrieta’s pitch count to 106 over the first five innings, again sending him to an early shower. The run tally on his ledger was just two, one earned, but that was enough to hang Arrieta with just his second loss of the season. Once the ace was out of the way, the Cardinals were able to have their way with the Chicago bullpen. St. Louis rolled to a 7-2 win and its first three-game sweep in the Windy City since May 1988.
In the bizarre world of statistics, Arrieta’s one earned run in five innings outing Wednesday maintained his season ERA at precisely 1.74. Without the irritation of facing St. Louis, however, his 2016 mark would be just 1.43.
That gap represents the difference from being the MLB ERA leader and being second to the man he unseated as the best pitcher in the Senior Circuit. Having earned the Cy Young Award in three of the prior four seasons, including 2013 and 2014. Clayton Kershaw is in the lead to secure number four here in 2016, according to ESPN’s Cy Young Award Predictor. His 1.57 ERA is currently the best there is.
The similarities between the two don’t end there.
For all of his individual recognition, Kershaw lacks the ultimate in team success, a World Series title. He hasn’t had to wait since 1908 like the Cubs, but the Dodgers star has definitely felt that level of frustration – again with the Cardinals at the root of his pain.
To date, exactly half of Kershaw’s post-season starts, five of ten, have come against St. Louis. The left-hander yielded an unbelievable 20 earned runs in 29 1/3 innings for a 6.14 ERA. Kershaw is still looking for his first playoff win over the Cardinals with four losses and a no-decision.
His regular season results versus the Birds are better – though certainly not Kershaw-esque. In 15 career regular-season starts facing St. Louis, Kershaw has four no-decisions and five losses against six wins. The 28-year-old’s ERA against the Birds is more than three-quarters of a run above his career average.
It may forever be a mystery as to why even superstar pitchers have less success against certain teams. But the reality is that in some cases, such as with Arrieta and Kershaw versus St. Louis, the situation is real.
When setting your daily lineups, if you discover this kind of history, don’t ignore the reality – embrace it!
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.