Jake Arrieta would likely get the ball in a possible wild-card game at Pittsburgh next month, but for now he'll try to boost his NL Cy Young chances against the Pirates.
In doing so, the streaking right-hander can become the Cubs' first 20-game winner in 14 years Wednesday night at PNC Park.
Arrieta (19-6, 1.99 ERA) has shied away from patting himself on the back for a remarkable 0.46 ERA while becoming the first Chicago pitcher to win eight straight starts since Milt Pappas' 11-game run in 1972. Manager Joe Maddon, however, has no problem touting his undisputed ace for a major award.
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"I definitely believe our guy deserves (the Cy Young Award), no question," Maddon said. "I've seen (Zack) Greinke pitch. I know he's really good. I'm getting to watch Jake in person; it's pretty spectacular to watch. My vote's for Jake."
Since June 21, Arrieta is 13-1 with a 1.00 ERA and has struck out 115 in 117 innings. He allowed only his second homer during that stretch in eight innings of Friday's 5-1 victory in the opener of a doubleheader at Philadelphia.
"Nothing fazes me," said Arrieta, who is on the verge of becoming the first Cubs pitcher with 20 wins since Jon Lieber in 2001. "Men on base, walks, homers. ... Deal with it and move forward."
He's yielded two runs and struck out 19 over 21 innings while going 2-1 against the Pirates (87-57) this season - with both wins coming at PNC Park.
Chicago split a day-night doubleheader Tuesday to remain four back of wild card-leading Pittsburgh. Jon Lester allowed five hits in his first complete game of the season to help the Cubs (83-61) snap a three-game skid with a 2-1 victory in the nightcap.
"I don't think they're wrapped up in the fact that they're in this particular moment, they have a chance to make the playoffs and these games are overly critical," Maddon told MLB's official website. "I think they're out there playing. I'm not recognizing any tightness among any of those guys. I don't see it."
Lester's strong performance ended a four-game winning streak for Pittsburgh, which won 5-4 in the opener.
With three hits on the day, Andrew McCutchen is batting .357 in his last eight games against the Cubs. He's 4 for 7 against Arrieta this season.
Though no longer considered an everyday player, Starlin Castro is batting .414 in his last nine and .471 with three doubles against A.J. Burnett (8-5, 3.14). While Castro is 3 for 5 when facing Burnett this season, the right-hander has allowed one run despite seven walks in 13 innings to go 1-0 over two starts against Chicago in 2015.
Burnett posted a 10.13 ERA while losing two of his three starts prior to landing on the disabled list July 31 with elbow inflammation. He then yielded three runs in the first inning during his return in Thursday's 6-4, 13-inning loss to Milwaukee. However, he didn't give up any over the next four innings he worked.
"I loved the fact he used all three of his pitches," manager Clint Hurdle said. "I liked the angle I saw from the fastball. It was elevated and flat in the first, then he got after it, started shaving the corners of the plate.
"It was fun to watch the last four innings."