By JON PALMIERI
(AP) — A healthy lead in the AL East is evidence that the Baltimore Orioles have few regrets about their recent decisions.
Letting Jake Arrieta go, however, may be one of the few they’ve come to regret.
The red-hot Orioles get their first look at the revitalized Arrieta in a Chicago Cubs uniform Friday at Wrigley Field as they attempt to match their longest win streak of the season.
Needing a starter for a potential playoff run last season, Baltimore dealt Arrieta and reliever Pedro Strop to the Cubs on July 2 for Scott Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger.
The trade didn’t pay off for the Orioles, who failed to reach the playoffs as Feldman went 5-6 with a 4.27 ERA in 12 starts before signing with Houston in the offseason. Arrieta, meanwhile, has blossomed for the Cubs after struggling to a 5.46 ERA in 69 games for Baltimore from 2010-13.
The right-hander is 6-4 with a 2.61 ERA in 19 starts this season, displaying the kind of consistent success that he never found with his first team.
“It’ll be fun to face guys I played with for a long time,” Arrieta told MLB’s official website. “I know they’re going to come out and compete as best as they possibly can, and I’m sure they expect the same from me.”
This figures to be one of Arrieta’s toughest assignments as he faces an Orioles (73-52) team that owns a nine-game lead in the East thanks in large part to a major league-best 31-13 record since June 30.
Baltimore’s surge continued on the South Side of Chicago this week with a three-game sweep of the White Sox. Nelson Cruz hit his major league-best 33rd homer and Adam Jones and Steve Pearce also went deep in Wednesday’s 4-3 victory, the Orioles’ fourth straight and 12th in 16 games.
“It’s just personal stuff. I’m happy because we’re winning,” said Cruz, who has four home runs and nine RBIs in his last 10 games. “That’s the main goal here.”
While Baltimore’s 161 homers lead the majors by a comfortable margin, that power has overshadowed an outstanding run by the pitching staff.
The Orioles have compiled a 2.87 ERA since June 30, ranking fourth in the majors during that span. Their bullpen has held opponents to an MLB-best .185 batting average in those 43 games.
Kevin Gausman (7-4, 3.70) aims to provide Baltimore with its fifth straight quality start and win for the fourth time in five tries.
He helped the Orioles avoid a sweep Sunday at Cleveland, yielding one run and two hits over six innings in a 4-1 victory. That improved the right-hander to 3-1 with a 3.23 ERA in his last five outings, allowing three runs or fewer in each.
Chicago fell 5-3 to San Francisco on Thursday after the completion of Tuesday’s upheld protest resulted in a 2-1 victory.
Welington Castillo and Justin Ruggiano homered in the regularly scheduled game for the Cubs (55-72), who played without shortstop Starlin Castro after he was put on the bereavement list.
Touted prospect Javier Baez played shortstop in place of Castro and struck out in all four at-bats. Baez has 30 strikeouts in his first 70 big league at-bats.
Arrieta was superb for the second consecutive start Sunday, tossing two-hit ball over seven scoreless innings with nine strikeouts against the Mets. He was denied a win when New York scored in the eighth of the Cubs’ 2-1 victory.
That marked the 14th time that Arrieta has allowed two runs or fewer.
The Orioles won two of three in their last visit to Wrigley in 2008.
Updated August 22, 2014
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