Pittsburgh Pirates v. Chicago Cubs – The Infielders

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Sep 22, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant (17) hits a two run home run in the third inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Third base: Kris Bryant vs. Aramis Ramirez

Perhaps the Chicago Cubs knew all along that Kris Bryant was ready for the major leagues before spring training even started. Ok, ‘perhaps’ is a bit of an understatement. They knew. Hell, everyone knew. But, service time rang its ugly head causing Bryan to miss the first couple of weeks of the 2015 season.

It’s only fitting that we start our analysis with Bryant. His addition to the Cubs roster has been transformative. His addition instantly gave the Cubs two power threats instead of relying on Anthony Rizzo to do all the heavy lifting. Bryant is the likely NL rookie of the year, and rightfully so. There is a weakness in his game, and it comes via the strikeout. With a 35.6% k-rate on the year, Bryant can be fooled at times. With Gerrit Cole utilizing a very deceptive slider, Bryant may struggle to put bat on ball in this contest. When he does put bat to ball, Bryant has been aided by a very-high .BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .379 throughout 2015. This suggests a bit of luck, and it makes one wonder what his slashline would look like without this working in his favor.

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Aramis Ramirez – aka The One That Got Away but came back – is the polar opposite of Bryant in many ways. First, let’s assume that Hurdle will give Ramirez the call here. Ramriez has a full 14 years on Bryant, but with that age comes experience in the form of a 14.3% strikeout rate in 2015. Ramirez has been slumping lately, but with a .250 BABIP, that would have likely ended with a few more swings. He still ended September with a .482 slugging percentage, showing that he can still be relied upon as a run producer. I expect Ramirez to be energized by postseason play and provide a steady glove as well.

Verdict: Ramirez. Surprised? I was too until I realized that Ramirez’s experience plays a big factor here. Bryant may come out tight, giving Ramirez a slight edge. With runs presumably being scarce for both teams, this negates Bryant’s thump somewhat. The high strikeout rate of Bryant coupled with the big stage gives Rammer the edge.

Edit: Since the time of this writing, comments by Hurdle regarding Josh Harrison make it seem as if he is going to play. It’s hard to argue that he should. But should he play in the infield? It all depends on Ramirez’s groin. By all accounts he is healthy enough to play, but can he play effectively? Should Harrison play at third I would give the edge to Bryant, but as it stand right now, let’s give Ramirez the benefit of the doubt.

Oct 4, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli (29) gets first baseman Pedro Alvarez (24) after Alvarez hit a solo home run against the Cincinnati Reds during the fourth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

First base: Anthony Rizzo vs Pedro Alvarez.

This one should be easier. First, let’s make no qualms about it. Alvarez will start this game at first base. He will not finish it, but he will start it. He will be given every opportunity to do that which he is to do: See Ball, Hit Ball.

Rizzo also sees the ball well. And we know he hits it well. Rizzo has a very good k-rate of 14.9%, and has a better slash against left-handed pitching. This limits any edge normally enjoyed when Tony Watson or Antonio Bastardo come in for relief. The Pirates may be catching Rizzo at the right time, as he is batting just .182 over his last 14 days (granted, .280 over his last seven). Rizzo is a beast, plain and simple.

Alvarez quietly put together a solid season at the plate. Snakebitten by solo home runs, Alvarez still had 27 ElToro Bombs on the year. I lead with that stat because this is what Pedro is there to do. All other batting lines and stats seem irrelevant. As with the rest of the Pirates lineup, it would be great for the Bucs if Alvarez can force Jake Arrieta to work towards the bottom of the order and drive the pitch count up. Pedro may be primed to do just that – having lowered his strikeout rate by 6% over the past month.

Pedro’s defense is what it is, but even before taking that into consideration he lost this matchup by virtue of Rizzo being a more complete hitter. If the Pirates can limit Bryant’s production in front of the first baseman, Rizzo’s output may be less damaging.

Verdict: Rizzo

Next, let’s take a look up the middle. Things are about to get really interesting.

Next: Up the middles