Before starting the Chicago Cubs' first playoff game in seven years, Jake Arrieta will get to put his finishing touches on one of the finest seasons in franchise history.
Arrieta will seek to earn an 11th consecutive win in Friday night's series opener at the Milwaukee Brewers.
The right-hander was the easy pick to pitch in Wednesday's wild-card game against Pittsburgh, entering this game 21-6 with a 1.82 ERA in 32 starts. The NL Cy Young Award contender has a chance to finish with the Cubs' lowest ERA in a season among qualifying starters since Pete Alexander's 1.72 in 1919, and his MLB-best 21 wins are the most since Fergie Jenkins went 24-13 in 1971.
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He's been virtually untouchable in his last 11 starts, going 10-0 with a 0.44 ERA, and putting his season ERA just behind Zack Greinke's 1.68 for the best in the majors. Greinke is scheduled to pitch Saturday night for the Los Angeles Dodgers against San Diego.
Greinke's teammate Clayton Kershaw had MLB's last 11-game winning streak from June 2-Aug. 10, 2014.
Arrieta tossed a three-hitter with 11 strikeouts in his latest matchup with Milwaukee, a 4-0 victory Sept. 22. He took a perfect game into the seventh inning in another 4-0 win Sunday against his upcoming playoff opponent, Pittsburgh, and hit his second career homer.
"He's from another planet. This guy, there's no doubt in my mind, he's the best right-handed pitcher in the game right now," catcher Miguel Montero told MLB's official website.
Arrieta can become the first Cubs pitcher to win 11 straight decisions since Rick Sutcliffe claimed 14 in a row to end 1984 and his first two in 1985. He also has 19 consecutive quality starts, going 15-1 with a 0.89 ERA.
The Cubs have won in each of Arrieta's 12 starts since they were no-hit by Philadelphia's Cole Hamels on July 25. His latest victory started a five-game win streak that's given the franchise its sixth 94-win season since 1910.
Chicago (94-65) finished off a three-game sweep Thursday in Cincinnati with a 5-3 win Thursday. Austin Jackson hit a three-run homer, giving him eight RBIs in his last two games.
"I think everybody would be a little surprised at (94 wins), but that's not to say it wasn't in the cards," pitcher Jason Hammel said. "We're good, and we know it. It was nice to see it come together so quickly."
The victory kept alive the Cubs' faint hopes of hosting the wild-card game. They trail Pittsburgh by two games with three to play for both teams, but the Pirates close their season versus Cincinnati, losers of 12 in a row, beginning Friday.
Chicago will try to do its part by claiming a seventh consecutive road win for the first time since an eight-game run Sept. 13-28, 2010. The Cubs swept a four-game set in their most recent visit to Milwaukee from July 30-Aug. 2, and have taken nine of the past 10 overall.
The Brewers (68-91), enduring their worst year since 2004, are returning home after being denied a fourth consecutive win with a 3-1 defeat to San Diego on Thursday that ended a 5-5 road trip. Shane Peterson's pinch-hit solo homer accounted for Milwaukee's run, and he's hit safely in his last five games.
Ariel Pena (2-0, 3.91) will make his fifth career start and first against the Cubs. He has pitched past the fifth inning just once, in a 3-1 loss to St. Louis on Sept. 15, and gave up three runs in five innings in a 4-3 win over the Cardinals last Friday.