How much should the Cubs fear Gerrit Cole?


In game one of the Pirates-Cubs series this weekend, Gerrit Cole shut down the Cubs’ batters. He pitched seven innings of four-hit, one-run ball in what ended up being a 3-2 win for the Pirates. With the Pirates’ most likely outcome this season being a date with the Cubs in the NL Wild Card game, a lot of Pirate fans are fearing facing Jake Arrieta in that matchup, as they should be. Arrieta has had a historic second half of the season, and holds a 0.93 ERA in four starts against the Pirates this year. But very little attention has been paid to Gerrit Cole and if the Cubs should be fearing him as much as we are fearing Arrieta.

Christina Kahrl of ESPN had a great article recently about how the Cubs should fear Cole, and how he showed how he could dominate the Cubs in his most recent start on Friday (give her piece a read here). Peter Gammons also feels similarly about Cole:

Now, it’s completely understandable for the Pirates to fear Arrieta. He’s been so dominant as of late and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. But Cole has the potential to be special this postseason. He’s young, fiery, and has been consistently good all season long. You know you’re going to get a solid performance from Cole no matter who he faces. Let’s break down why the Cubs should fear Cole.

In four starts against the Cubs this year, Cole has posted a 2.13 ERA across 25.1 innings of work. He’s struck out 32 batters and has thrown just four walks while averaging over six innings per start. He hasn’t been as fantastic against the Cubs as Arrieta has been against the Pirates, but’s he been great nonetheless. And while this Cubs team is very different than the Cubs’ teams of the past two seasons, it’s still important to note that Cole has historically pitched very well against the Cubs. Career-wise, Cole has a 2.88 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP, and has thrown 69 strikeouts to just 11 walks against the Cubs. He knows Chicago well, and if Chicago somehow takes over home field for the Wild Card game, Cole knows how to pitch well there as well. Cole has a career 2.68 ERA at Wrigley, but that may not matter if the Pirates clinch home field for the Wild Card in the next day or two.

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Cole also pitches better as the season progresses, and as the games mean more down the stretch. In the playoffs against the Cardinals in 2013, Cole held a 2.45 ERA and a miniscule 0.64 WHIP, so he knows how to pitch in the postseason. And while he hasn’t been as dynamic in September of this year as he has in Septembers past, he still holds a career 2.78 ERA in September.

What do all of these numbers mean? Well, for one, Cole typically gets better as the season progresses. He also tends to pitch better in the games that mean the most. This is something he’s proven over his short career. And that’s a scary notion for the Cubs.

There are other intangibles to consider as well. In 2013, Francisco Liriano was given the nod over Cole, which was probably the right choice at the time. Now, Cole is going to be the starter if the Pirates end up in the Wild Card game. Cole will be amped up for that contest, and may be looking to prove any remaining doubters wrong. And coming off his recent great start against the Cubs, he knows he can dominate them when the time comes.

Cole has the numbers and the intangibles to out-duel Arrieta in a playoff game. Heck, the Pirates have beaten the Cubs when Arrieta has pitched against them before, and they’ve beaten the Cubs when Cole’s been on the mound. So, if they can put those two together, there’s no reason why the Pirates shouldn’t be confident with their ace, Gerrit Cole on the mound.

Next: Should the Pirates bring back Neil Walker next season