The Giants carried a season-high eight-game winning streak into the opener of a mid-May heavyweight bout against the Chicago Cubs. Their opponents had not lost since last July with ace Jake Arrieta on the mound, a span of 21 of his starts.
Something had to give, and as the Giants were trying to find a crack in the majors’ most unassailable pitcher of the past year, their own starter crumbled. Jake Peavy surrendered five runs before departing in the second inning – a deficit magnified by Arrieta’s recent dominance – and the Giants fell 8-1 in their first meeting of the season with the owners of the majors’ best record.
Arrieta, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, has now won 19 consecutive decisions, five shy of Carl Hubbell’s major-league record. The Cubs have won each of his last 22 starts, a span in which the right-hander has a 0.86 ERA.
“It’s an incredible run,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s just got great stuff. It’s not just velocity. It’s running all over the place. The guy is just, he’s a monster out there.”
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Arrieta improved to 8-0 with a 1.29 ERA this season, yet before the game Cubs manager Joe Maddon was talking about how 2016 so far has not been indicative of Arrieta’s best. Maddon said Arrieta has “another level we haven’t seen this year,” citing the fact that his “command has been off.” Arrieta looked vulnerable at times Friday, but he managed with help from his defense to keep the Giants from having a truly damaging inning.
Denard Span led off the first inning with a 410-foot drive to right-center that would have been a home run in most major-league stadiums. But AT&T Park’s Triples Alley gave Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward enough room to make a sprinting catch on the warning track, robbing Span of extra bases.
Heyward appeared to land awkwardly and his momentum carried him into the base of the wall, where he stayed down in pain pointing at his right side. Trainers ran out to check on him and Heyward eventually left the game under his own power with what the Cubs said was a right torso/abdominal injury.
Arrieta walked the next batter, Joe Panik, but retired Matt Duffy on a fly ball to right and Buster Posey on a broken-bat comebacker. Two innings later, Panik lined a single to right-center that scored Angel Pagan for the Giants’ only run. Duffy then singled and Posey hit a line drive to deep left, but Jorge Soler made a leaping catch at the wall, saving two runs and ending the inning.
“Couple balls that we hit would’ve changed the game,” Bochy said. “That’s baseball. You’ve got your hands full with their guy, and we just got down too far.”
The Giants’ 5-1 deficit at that point looked cavernous against Arrieta, who has not given up more than three runs in any of his last 29 starts. Peavy, meanwhile, had his shortest start of a tumultuous season, allowing as many runs Friday (five) as he recorded outs and leaving the mound in the second inning with his season ERA at 8.21.
Peavy had battled flu-like symptoms to hold the Diamondbacks to one run in six innings in his last start in Arizona, but he labored from the outset Friday against a Cubs lineup that worked deep into counts. Peavy threw 28 pitches in a scoreless first inning then fell apart in the second, with Arrieta opening the scoring with a one-out RBI single.
Peavy loaded the bases by walking Dexter Fowler.The Giants caught a break as Arrieta got a late jump on Tommy La Stella’s liner off the right-field wall, causing a logjam on the bases in which La Stella had to stop at first base and Arrieta was tagged out retreating to third. But Peavy couldn’t take advantage, serving a 2-2 pitch to Kris Bryant that the Cubs’ third baseman hammered into the left-field seats for a three-run homer.
“The pitch probably he’d love to have back was the last one there,” Bochy said. “It’s a 2-0 ballgame, that’s a game at that point. But you get down five against Arrieta, that’s an uphill climb. He was just missing his spots tonight.”
Anthony Rizzo’s ensuing single marked the end of the night for Peavy, who failed to get out of the second inning for just the third time in 365 career major-league starts.
“We get in the dugout (against) Bryant and we’re on, because the stuff was fine,” Peavy said. “It was just a matter of them building some innings and just grinding – the way we grind.
“When teams are going that way and are that professional, you’ve got to earn your wins. They’re going to make you throw those 3-2 pitches, that’s part of who they are. So, go back to work tomorrow. There ain’t no giving up. I simply don’t believe in it.”
If there was a positive to Peavy’s outing, it was the timing. The Giants were coming off of a sweep of the Padres in which their starters pitched 26 of 27 innings, meaning Bochy had a well-rested bullpen to cover Peavy’s tracks.
But that development had its own downside. George Kontos, in his first outing since he was activated from a 26-game stint on the DL, pitched a scoreless seventh inning before giving up back-to-back homers in the eighth to Ben Zobrist and Soler. Zobrist’s touched down in McCovey Cove, adding a splash of ignominy to the Giants’ night.
Arrieta, meanwhile, settled in after the third inning to retire 12 of his final 14 batters. He finished the seventh inning by firing a 94 mph fastball past Angel Pagan for a strikeout and likely came out of the game only because he had thrown 111 pitches – echoing what his manager had said earlier about why Arrieta’s early season has, by his own lofty standards, not reached peak form.
“He should be about 13, 14 pitches per inning,” Maddon said of Arrieta. “That’s when he’s on top of his game. He’ll get strikeouts, but he gets a lot of weak contact and he’ll force you to swing the bat, because it’s a strike, but it’s a pitcher’s strike, not a hitter’s strike. That just hasn’t been there consistently yet.
“It’s early. Once he finds out and gets that feel for where the ball’s going again … you’ll have a better start out there.”
Against the Giants on Friday night, it was good enough.