Jake Arrieta's 2nd Career No-No Cements His Status as Baseball's Best Pitcher

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistApril 22, 2016

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta throws in the first inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds, Thursday, April 21, 2016, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
John Minchillo/Associated Press

There were doubterscritics and naysayers who said Jake Arrieta was destined for regression after his otherworldly 2015 campaign.

Instead, the Chicago Cubs right-hander and reigning National League Cy Young Award winner has blasted deeper into the stratosphere.

On Thursday in Cincinnati, Arrieta defined dominant, twirling a no-hitter for the second straight season in a 16-0 Cubs drubbing of the Cincinnati RedsIn the process of hammering down those 27 historic outs, he cemented his status as baseball's best pitcher.

In fact, USA Today's Bob Nightengale made that bold-but-true assertion before the feat was even complete:

No, the Reds aren't an offensive juggernaut. But they've got a lineup littered with dangerous hitters, including former NL MVP Joey Votto.

And no, Arrieta wasn't perfect Thursday night, as he issued a season-high four walks. But he was also pitching in a noted bandbox that was the second-most hitter-friendly yard in the Senior Circuit last season, according to ESPN's Park Factors statistic. 

There's simply no parsing this one, no tearing it down. Arrieta stated his case, unequivocally, by the banks of the Ohio River.

Honestly, the fact that he did it while struggling slightly with his command and perhaps not possessing his very best stuff only underlines the amazingness.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

Arrieta issued a season-high four walks but yielded no hits Thursday against the Reds.
Arrieta issued a season-high four walks but yielded no hits Thursday against the Reds.Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

After those nine sterling frames, Arrieta's ERA sits at an absurd 0.87. He's surrendered just 15 hits in 31 innings while fanning 26. It's early, sure. But this is merely a continuation of the brilliance he unleashed in 2015.

He's 20-1 in his last 24 starts. Pitching wins are an outmoded stat, but still—pause and let that sink in.

Arrieta's lastand first careerno-hitter came August 30, 2015, against the Los Angeles Dodgers in L.A. The Dodgers used Thursday's no-no as an excuse to fire off a tongue-in-cheek tip of the cap:

Speaking of Los Angeles, they have a guy by the name of Clayton Kershaw who, like Arrieta, pitched a no-hitter in 2014 as a reigning Cy Young winner.

Also like Arrieta, Kershaw has a credible claim to the "best pitcher in baseball" label. Maybe over the course of the 162-game grind, Kershaw will again successfully argue his case, as he has so many times before.

Or maybe a young gun like the New York Mets' Noah Syndergaard—who is living up to his Norse god nickname with triple-digit thunderbolts—will swoop in and steal the throne.

Today's MLB is littered with top-shelf studs, in fact. Toss a rosin bag and you'll hit one. Right now, though, Arrieta is the man. You can lean on the stats, and they'll do the talking.

Or you can simply use your eyeballs.

Take the ninth inning on Thursday. With two outs and two strikes on the batter, Eugenio Suarez, Arrieta flipped a breaking pitch belt-high over the outside corner. Home plate umpire Dana DeMuth flinched, but he called it a ball. 

Another pitcher might have been rattled. Instead, Arrieta scowled, bore down and two pitches later—on his 119th throw of the night—induced a game-ending pop-up. (Really, DeMuth should buy Arrieta a beer for the flood of vitriolic hate mail he avoided.)

"It feels different the second time," Arrieta said of his encore performance, per Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. "I was a little more relaxed as the game progressed."

His catcher concurred.

"He's capable of doing that every time," Cubs backstop David Ross said, per Wittenmyer. "I think mentally he expects to do that. He's not shocked when he does stuff like that."

John Minchillo/Associated Press

Yes, Arrieta is the guy who slid to the fifth round in the 2007 draft, where the Baltimore Orioles nabbed him. He's the guy who didn't post a sub-4.00 ERA until 2014, his fifth big league season, and wobbled frequently with his command.

That year, 2014, was also his first full season with the Cubs. Simply put, Arrieta has been reborn on the North Side.

Now, in his age-30 seasonpitching for a loaded young team with legitimate championship aspirationshe has blossomed into an ace.

Not just any ace, either. An ace among aces. The ace.

There were doubters. On Thursday, Arrieta doused any who remained in a barrage of no-hit stuff and a cascade of celebratory sports drink.

That had to feel good.

All statistics current as of April 21 and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.