For the second time in a year and in his career, Jake Arrieta has a no-hitter. On Thursday night, the Cubs’ ace blanked the Reds, striking out six and allowing four walks as Chicago blasted Cincinnati, 16–0, in the young season’s first no-hitter—an outing that cements Arrieta’s place as one of the game’s best starters, if it doesn’t firmly place him at No. 1.
Arrieta, who picked up his first career no-no last August against the Dodgers, needed 119 pitches to take down the Reds for his second. Working primarily with his sinker, the 30-year-old right-hander induced 11 ground balls, relying less on his swing-and-miss stuff—he got just 12 on the night—and instead picking up his outs on balls in play. Arrieta retired the side in order in the first, third, fifth, seventh and eighth innings, and of his four walks, one was erased on a pickoff at first base, and another was taken care of on a double play, as no Red got any further than second base. Scott Schebler drew two of the walks, both to lead off an inning, and he started the ninth with a free pass. From there, Arrieta got Tucker Barnhart to pop out to short and Zack Mozart to line out to center. With two down, Arrieta worked Eugenio Suarez to an 0–2 count, then froze him with a curveball that seemed to hit the outside corner of the strike zone, only for home plate umpire Dana DeMuth to call it a ball. Unperturbed, Arrieta got Suarez to fly out to Jason Heyward in right, touching off a raucous celebration on the mound (that was joined by one brave yet tremendously stupid fan).
For the Cubs, Arrieta becomes just the second pitcher in franchise history to throw two no-hitters in blue-and-white, joining Ken Holtzman, who pulled off the trick in 1969 and again in ’71. Arrieta’s no-no is the 10th for the team all-time, and it comes just two days after the death of Milt Pappas, who no-hit the Padres with Chicago in 1972. Arrieta is now the 37th pitcher in major league history to throw two or more no-hitters; the last to join that club was Max Scherzer, who threw two last season. Between them, Arrieta and Scherzer have four of the last seven no-hitters thrown in baseball. Only four pitchers ever have thrown three or more no-hitters: Bob Feller (three), Cy Young (three), Sandy Koufax (four) and Nolan Ryan, who holds the MLB record with seven. Arrieta also becomes the first pitcher to throw no-hitters in consecutive seasons since Tim Lincecum pulled off the feat for the Giants in 2013 and ’14, both against the Padres.
To add insult to the injury inflicted upon the Reds (who were no-hit for the first time in the regular season since the Phillies’ Rick Wise blanked them back on June 23, 1971), the Cubs also made some history of their own supporting Arrieta, as the team banged out 16 runs on 18 hits. The 16–0 final score is the second-most lopsided win in a no-hitter in major league history and the biggest win in a no-no since Aug. 27, 1938, when Monte Pearson and the Yankees blanked the Indians, 13–0. Only Pud Galvin’s 1884 no-hitter for the Buffalo Bisons against the Detroit Wolverines was more of a rout, as Galvin’s squad put up 18 runs in a shutout against a team that would finish 28–84 on the season.
Rebuilding intentions aside, these Reds aren’t as bad as that Wolverines team, but it doesn’t seem to matter who faces Arrieta at the moment, as the right-hander is amid one of the most dominant pitching stretches the game has ever seen. Since June 21, when he threw a nine-inning shutout against the Twins, Arrieta has tossed 178 innings and given up just 17 earned runs, for an ERA of 0.86. In that time, he has made 14 starts without allowing a run (including five complete-game shutouts), has notched a quality start in his last 24 outings and has lost just once, that coming last July 25 (in a game that, coincidentally, also featured a no-hitter: Cole Hamels's). This season, he’s now allowed just three runs in 31 innings, all of those coming in his second start of the year, and now has a 19-inning scoreless streak dating back to that game. All in all, opposing batters are hitting just .150 against Arrieta in his last 24 games—and he’s hitting .238, including two hits on Thursday night.
The question now, then, is not whether Arrieta could keep up his incredible pace from last season—if anything, he seems to be improving upon it. Instead, the debate now becomes whether or not he is the best pitcher in baseball, a mantle that Clayton Kershaw has held onto for the last five seasons. The overall body of work still points to Kershaw, who boasts three Cy Youngs and could arguably have five, and who himself has allowed just six runs (five earned) through 30 innings of work this season. But regardless of who wins that theoretical battle between Kershaw and Arrieta (or any other pitcher you care to throw into the conversation), there is no denying the otherworldly talent of the Cubs’ righty.
What’s scarier than Arrieta’s brilliance, though, is that he’s doing this for a team that arguably doesn’t even need him. At 12–4 and fresh off Thursday's obliteration of Cincinnati, the Cubs now have a run differential of plus-60, far and away the best mark in the game; St. Louis is a distant second at plus-31, and Chicago just took two of three against the Cardinals earlier this week. No team in the American League, meanwhile, is higher than Baltimore’s plus-16. The Cubs came into the season rightly recognized as the favorite to win the NL and hoist the franchise’s first World Series trophy since 1908. With this version of Arrieta leading them, there’s seemingly no reason to bet against them.
Nonetheless, before talking about World Series odds for the Cubs, there still remain the 146 games they have to play—plenty of time, then, for Arrieta to keep making history, starting with next Wednesday's start against the Brewers, where he will try to join Johnny Vander Meer as the only pitchers ever to throw consecutive no-hitters. The way Arrieta is going, don't be surprised if you're getting no-hitter alerts and reading about his dominance all over again next week.