Alec Mill’s no-hitter on Sunday marked the 16th in their franchise’s history and the first since Jake Arrieta’s in 2016. Mills tossed only five strikeouts but didn’t allow a single hit in the Cubs’ 12-0 blowout over the Milwaukee Brewers, bringing the Cubs to 28-20, now a four-game advantage over the St. Louis Cardinals.
For Mills, in his ninth start of the season, it was a prove-it outing, a brilliant effort in asserting himself as the best option in the back of their rotation. His ERA is down to 3.93 on the year, and his no-hitter was the second consecutive outing of his where he’s allowed no runs through six innings.
“It was just a matter of coming in ready to go,” said Mills. “I think every offseason and every time coming out, I want to be ready to pitch 200 innings at the big-league level so that this is not a surprise.”
And while it’s another feather in Mill’s cap, his no-hitter may serve as a spark to ignite something in this Cubs team. They were 4-6 against their previous 10 opponents entering Sunday, including losing three out of five to the Cardinals team that’s made grounds on them.
The most obvious comparison to a no-hitter-fueled turnaround is Jake Arrieta’s tide-turning no-no in 2015. The Cubs had lost four straight heading into his start, albeit it only brought their record down 73-55, the third best record in the NL. Arrieta’s outing jumpstarted their end-of-season run, and the Cubs went 23-10 and rode their momentum all the way to an NLCS loss to the Mets.
Today, all it takes is to look on the other side of town to find another example of post-no-hitter momentum. The White Sox have been on a tear since Lucas Giolito’s no-hitter, losing only four times in 17 games since his dominance against the Pirates. At this point, they’re a lock to get in the playoffs and hold a two-game lead in their division after winning their previous five straight.
“I think the one thing that stands out to me about Alec is that, no matter what situation I’ve put him in this year,” said manager David Ross, “he’s answered the expectations that we have for him and answered without complaining. He goes out and he does his job, he works hard.
“I’ve seen him start off really well, go through a couple starts where he doesn’t pitch as well as he wanted to and then the last few have been a lot better back to what we expect from him and what he expects from himself.”
Right now, the Cubs are winning. But they’re not winning the way the White Sox are right now and they’re not winning the way they did at the end of 2015. Baseball’s a weird game, psychologically, and the efforts of one person can jump-start an entire team. Willson Contreras has looked like himself lately, but the contributions from their true nucleus of players still have yet to fully arrive. A revitalization of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Báez has been talked about as a matter of when, but with only a couple weeks left in the season, it’s beginning to look much more like a matter of if. The team has made due otherwise and, obviously, has won plenty of games. But to battle with a team like the Los Angeles Dodgers, they’ll need more than what they’re getting. Perhaps Mills’s no-hitter can be the impetus for that.