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No more underrating Cubs' Arrieta

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AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

After Chicago Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta completed a dazzling August by no-hitting the Los Angeles Dodgers Sunday night, I think it’s well past time we all apologize to the man for allowing him to fall to the 11th round and No. 27 starting pitcher in ESPN average live drafts. Julio Teheran and Tyson Ross over Arrieta? Gio Gonzalez? Hey, I admit it. I didn’t rank Arrieta among my top-20 starters because his 2014 performance, while awesome and certainly relevant to deciding fantasy championships, seemed like a fluke. Arrieta was hardly special over four seasons with the Baltimore Orioles. He was dealt along with Pedro Strop for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger. It wasn’t a blockbuster deal.

The Arrieta on display Sunday night is a legitimate Cy Young contender, and while he’s owned in all leagues and nothing I write is going to change that, I can announce this: Everyone was wrong about Arrieta back in March, but next March, he has to be viewed as a top-10 starting pitcher, if not a top-three choice, along with Dodgers Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. Are Washington Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer and Chicago White Sox lefty Chris Sale better, safer and laden with greater upside? What about San Francisco Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner, New York Mets right-handers Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey, and free agents David Price and Johnny Cueto? Even that comparison might sound ridiculous, like it’s not good enough. After all, this is the No. 2 starting pitcher on the ESPN Fantasy Player Rater today, fourth overall, behind Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Greinke and Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson. Arrieta passed Kershaw. He passed Mike Trout. He’s been great all year, and it’s not that we hadn’t noticed, but it understandably takes time for praise to catch up with a 29-year-old who many had given up.

Not only is Arrieta the lone pitcher on pace for the elusive and often-overrated 20-win season, but also we can now be certain that he's truly earned his 2.11 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and excellent strikeout rate -- things he can control -- unlike last season, when there was at least some doubt, as Arrieta made only 25 starts and we needed more evidence. Arrieta's 2015 numbers aren't the result of a spate of good luck. In six August starts, he permitted two earned runs for a 0.43 ERA, with 0.70 WHIP. The last starting pitcher to win six starts in a month with an ERA that low was Chicago White Sox lefty Jim Kaat in 1974. Arrieta’s ERA since the All-Star break is 1.03. An extreme ground-baller who induces many strikeouts, Arrieta is efficient with his pitches and dazzles with his cutter and curveball. Left-handed hitters are flummoxed, managing just a .161 batting average and .471 OPS. In Baltimore, Arrieta threw an ineffective slider, but now it’s morphed into a dominant cutter. In Chicago, he is not only throwing harder but he had also improved his command and home run rate. It’s a joy to watch, actually. I don’t know if Arrieta can win the NL Cy Young award over Greinke, whose ERA remains a ridiculous half-run better, but it should be fun watching.

By the way, this is the second time in nine days that the first-place Dodgers, who look really ordinary when Greinke and Kershaw aren’t gracing the mound, have been held hitless. Houston Astros right-hander Mike Fiers achieved this feat less than two weeks ago. Can we read into this from a fantasy aspect? Do we now consider pitchers facing the Dodgers for streaming and Daily Fantasy Sports purposes? Well yeah, why not? Dodgers manager Don Mattingly continues to hit struggling middle infielders Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley 1-2, despite their having on-base percentages well below .300. The seemingly overrated Yasiel Puig is on the disabled list, but at least he was a lineup presence. Center fielder Joc Pederson is hitting .153 since the All-Star break and shouldn’t be playing regularly. The Dodgers are 27th in runs scored for August, ahead of only the Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds and crosstown Angels. You bet I’d use that information for fantasy until it changes.

NL report: Washington Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg was the one I predicted on Friday’s #06010 Fantasy Baseball podcast would throw a no-hitter Sunday. Um, yeah, I meant Arrieta. Instead, Strasburg gave up a three-run homer to Justin Bour in the first inning and left after four frames with lower back discomfort. Of course he did. And I keep recommending this great, yet brittle talent, and will continue to do so. … Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton could come off his disabled list stint Friday, but you can’t activate him in a weekly league. … Colorado Rockies lefty Jorge De La Rosa delivered another strong road outing Sunday, tossing six shutout innings at Pittsburgh. Avoid De La Rosa this week at home, but his next two starts figure to be at San Diego and Los Angeles. … The Mets acquired former Diamondbacks and White Sox closer Addison Reed, but don’t worry, Jeurys Familia owners, Familia’s not in danger of losing the closer role. Plus, Reed isn’t good. He wasn’t good when he was getting all those saves, either. … Diamondbacks outfielder David Peralta hit his 14th HR Sunday, and all have come off right-handed pitching. When Peralta will be in the lineup, and he’s a very good option those days. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina knocked in two runs Sunday, the fifth time in eight games he’s done so. Molina isn’t hitting many home runs, but he’s still helping.

AL report: While Arrieta enjoys top NL honors for August, check out Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion, who reached the 30 HR mark Sunday for the fourth consecutive season. On Saturday, he homered three times and knocked in nine runs. For August, he’s hitting .402 with 11 HRs and 35 RBIs. His OPS is 1.385. Wow. Encarnacion was the No. 11 choice in ESPN average draft position, but until recently, few would have considered him a top-20 guy next season. Well, think again: He probably is. … The Blue Jays moved struggling shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to fifth in the order Sunday, right after Encarnacion, and outfielder Ben Revere led off. Revere didn’t do anything, but it’s interesting. Whoever hits first sees his value rise. … Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz played his ninth game at first base Sunday and needs one more to trigger in-season eligibility for ESPN standard leagues. However, the Red Sox don’t play another interleague game on the road. By the way, Ortiz homered, his 28th. Not exactly washed up. … Nice to see Los Angeles Angels outfielder Trout with four hits Sunday, since he had a total of five hits in his previous eight games. Somehow Trout didn’t score a run Sunday, though. Not that his owners are really panicking anyway. … No struggling from the New York Yankees this weekend in their sweep at Atlanta. They scored 20 runs on Sunday, as middle infielders Didi Gregorius, who homered and knocked in six Friday, and Stephen Drew combined for six hits and five runs batted in. Each has a place in a deep league. Drew has 16 HRs. He’s hitting only .201, but it’s worth noting that only two middle infielders have more than 20 HRs.