The plot lines were there for easy pickings Friday.
You can say that the Cubs played up to their competition during a 4-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles at Wrigley Field.
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Or you can say that starting pitcher Jake Arrieta and reliever Pedro Strop had a little something extra working against the team that traded them to the Cubs last year.
Either way, the Cubs played one of their better games of the season against the runaway leaders of the American League East.
"A really well-played game all the way around," said Cubs manager Rick Renteria, whose team improved to 56-72. "The stage was actually set ... Jake did a great job. Phenomenal 7 innings of work, retired the first 13 in a row, had some nice defensive plays behind him."
The Cubs got both Arrieta and Strop in July 2013 from the Orioles in the Scott Feldman trade. Strop has been solid out of the bullpen while Arrieta has been a revelation this season since coming off the disabled list in May. He gave up 4 hits and the 1 run against his former team as his record improved to 7-4 with a 2.53 ERA.
The narrative of facing one's former team is an easy one, but Arrieta admitted there was something to it.
"There was a little more to it, just beating the former team," he said. "After the first inning, it was just kind of business as usual. It was nice to face those guys. It's good to see a lot of them again. It's been awhile. It was just another start, really, for me, after that point."
The run Arrieta gave up came on a homer by Nelson Cruz in the seventh, but that's no disgrace. Cruz has 34 of those.
Speaking of homers, the Cubs got 1 each from Luis Valbuena (No. 12) and Javier Baez, who crushed his sixth of the year, inside the left-field foul pole and onto Waveland Avenue.
"I want to keep fighting to hit the ball hard," said Baez, who also has 31 strikeouts in 74 at-bats. "I'm not afraid to strike out. I've just got to keep swinging the bat."
That's OK with Arrieta.
"You do want to see every one of that kid's at-bats, that's for sure," he said. "It's starting to get to the point that even though it's so early in his career that nothing really surprises me with what he does at the plate. Everyone knows that if he connects with that swing, he's going to hit it a long way. I don't know if many of his home runs will touch the seats here, honestly."
The Cubs also got great defensive work from Logan Watkins and Chris Valaika at second base and from Luis Valbuena at third and Ryan Sweeney in right field.
The game was played in front of 33,761 fans, a great many of whom were wearing the black and orange of the Orioles.
"I saw and heard it, especially warming up," Arrieta said. "But I like that. I like that kind of stuff. The fans are passionate about their team. They're in a great place right now, 8 or so games up in the AL East. Their fans have a lot to be happy about. It's good that they're getting that support."
Strop said he, too, was excited to face his former team. He gave up a hit and a walk in a scoreless eighth before Hector Rondon earned his 20th save. As for playing up to the competition, Strop said it was a good thing for the Cubs.
"That tells you that you can compete as a team," he said. "If you can beat a team, that kind of team, that gives you the confidence to play and compete because it's one of the best teams in the major leagues."