CHICAGO — Jake Arrieta became the ace of the Chicago Cubs' starting rotation back in July when Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel were traded.
Cubs manager Rick Renteria believes the right-hander has earned that distinction with his pitching.
"He's our ace and he's been pitching pretty much like an ace," Renteria said. "He's got that kind of stuff. He's been carrying us deep into ballgames. Typically, an ace has both of those qualities, carrying you deep and having stuff."
Arrieta pitched seven strong innings to outduel St. Louis' John Lackey and lead the Cubs to a 3-1 victory over the Cardinals on Wednesday night.
Arrieta (10-5), coming off a one-hit shutout against Cincinnati last week, limited St. Louis to two hits and an unearned run while striking out 10.
The Cardinals, who clinched a playoff berth earlier in the week, remained 1 1/2 games ahead of Pittsburgh in the NL Central. The Pirates lost at Atlanta, reducing St. Louis' magic number to three for clinching the division title.
Arrieta helped his own cause in the fourth inning. After Lackey intentionally walked Logan Watkins, Arrieta hit a two-run triple — the first triple of his career and the first by a Cubs pitcher since 2012.
"I try and put as much emphasis on the offensive side of the game as I can," he said. "I hung in there and was able to put enough on it to find the gap. (Third base coach Gary Jones) said he put up the stop sign, but I was happy to be even running the bases, honestly."
Lackey (3-3) gave up two runs and five hits in 6 2-3 innings. He struck out eight, his most since joining the Cardinals at the trade deadline.
"He was good," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said of Lackey. "It's amazing that (Arrieta's at-bat) is the one that does it. Got into a good count — I didn't see the pitch again — we take our chances with the pitcher up in that spot."
The Cardinals were held without a hit through four innings but managed two singles in the fifth. Yadier Molina came in to score on Welington Castillo's throwing error, cutting the Cubs lead to 2-1.
Chris Valaika had a pinch-hit RBI single in the eighth to extend the Cubs lead to 3-1.
The Cardinals mounted a two-out rally in the ninth, but Hector Rondon worked out of the jam for his 13th consecutive save and his 27th in 31 opportunities this season.
Arrieta has allowed two or fewer runs in 19 of 25 starts this season.
This was his last start of the season, so Arrieta — who spent the first month on the disabled list — tied his career-high in wins and lowered his ERA to 2.53.
"I haven't really reflected on it too much on it at this point," he said. "Over the next few weeks, I'll be able to get back home, kind of go over things, watch video, break some stuff down and use all that information for next season."
Now that the Cubs' regular-season schedule is over, improvements and renovations at the 100-year-old ballpark — including constructing a large video scoreboard in left field — are expected to begin soon.
The scoreboard and other outfield signs should be in place by the start of next season, but the new home clubhouse isn't slated to be completed until 2016.
Cubs: SS Starlin Castro will miss the remainder of the season, according to manager Rick Renteria. Castro injured his left ankle sliding into home against the Milwaukee Brewers on Sept. 2.
Cardinals: OF Jon Jay missed Wednesday's game due to a personal matter. He will rejoin the team on Friday in Arizona.
Cubs: LHP Eric Jokisch (0-0, 1.74) will make his first career start on Friday when the Cubs open a three-game set at Milwaukee.
Cardinals: RHP Michael Wacha (5-6, 3.18), who missed approximated three months earlier this season with a stress reaction in his throwing shoulder, starts for the Cardinals on Friday against Arizona.
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