The Sudden, Historic Dominance of Jake Arrieta

And then there was Mike Scott in 1986. That year, Scott won the NL Cy Young Award, leading the league in innings pitched (275.1), strikeouts (306), ERA (2.22), and a host of other categories. His final 30 starts of the season were white hot: 263 strikeouts in 230.2 innings, a 1.87 ERA, and an opponents’ batting line of just .171/.225/.276. His last two starts that regular season went full nuclear: 16 innings, 21 strikeouts, and just two hits allowed, including a no-hitter on September 25 that clinched the NL West for the Astros — the only time in baseball history that a pitcher has clinched a playoff spot with a no-no. Scott’s combination of deadly heat and a brutal splitter — along with widespread belief that he was cutting baseballs with a foreign substance to make them dive out of the strike zone — messed with hitters’ minds that year. Facing the Mets in the NLCS, Scott threw a five-hit, 14-strikeout shutout in Game 1, followed by a three-hit, one-run complete game in Game 4.

As Rob Neyer recounted for in 2001, Scott’s heroics particularly got to All-Star catcher Gary Carter. Had the Mets not won that incredible, 16-inning marathon Game 6 to win the pennant, Scott was a good bet to extinguish their World Series chances the next day. “Mike Scott watched that sixth game from the Astros’ dugout, and he haunted us,” Carter said. “He stuck in the back of our minds. No, sir, we didn’t want to face him the following day for all the marbles … The man had a power over us even when he was spending the game on the bench.”

Battle-tested and seemingly unflappable, this year’s Cardinals aren’t likely to admit to that kind of fear against Arrieta. Still, as the NLDS shifts to Wrigley Field later today, there’s a quiet sense in the baseball world that the Cards will have to win Games 4 and 5, because how the hell is anyone going to hit Arrieta in Game 3?

If that overpowering Game 3 start does happen, and the Cubs can win one more in this series after that, those other names — Koufax and Gibson and Hershiser — will start coming up in every conversation about Arrieta. If this streak continues through to the Fall Classic, there won’t even be a conversation anymore: As far as dominant postseason pitchers go, Arrieta will stand on his own.

Thanks to ESPN Stats & Information for research assistance.

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