Pittsburgh Pirates v. Chicago Cubs – The Infielders
Oct 4, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Neil Walker (18) throws to first base to retire Cincinnati Reds catcher Brayan Pena (not pictured) during the fifth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Second base: Neil Walker vs Addison Russell.
It’s hard to see the forest for the trees, but Neil Walker had a very similar season to his breakout 2014. Slashing .269/.328/.427 with 16 home runs and 71 RBI, Walker was a valuable, everyday cog for the Pirates. His strikeouts were up this year, but otherwise Walker was Walker. I wish I could provide more analysis here, but with his steady presence, there are just not a lot of question marks for The Pittsburgh Kid.
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On the other hand, Addison Russell of the Cubs gives us plenty to talk about. A rookie who was called up surprisingly early, Russell appeared in 142 games for the baby bears. His bat is an intersting one, as he slugged 29 doubles and 13 home runs as a rookie, but also struck out 149 times (31.4%). This loose approach at the plate caused him to be glossed over for Tommy La Stella down the stretch. In fact, the official Cubs website has La Stella at the top of the depth chart at 2B. I spoke with former rumbunter contributor and current Cubbies Crib editor Jake Misener, who told me that Russell should be the starter for this game.
If that holds true, then the Pirates find themselves with an advantage here. Much akin to the Ramirez/Bryant scenario, experience and a steady approach at the plate trumps a pressing youth. Walker’s defense is vastly superior to Russell’s as well.
Verdict: Walker. By a mile.
Oct 4, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Chicago Cubs second baseman Starlin Castro (13) fouls a bunt attempt in the eighth inning during the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Shortstop: Jordy Mercer vs Starlin Castro
It might be a rule of the universe that anytime the words “defense” and “infield” are used within shouting distance of each other, Jordy Mercer must be mentioned. Since taking over regular shortstop duties for Jung Ho Kang, Mercer has been adequate offensively. Curiously, in September/October his batting average was a paltry .233 yet he posted his best month for RBI with 14. Batting 8th in the order no matter its configuration, Mercer’s job at the plate is to drive up Arrieta’s pitch count. Plain and simple. In the field, Mercer is as rock solid as they come.
Now would be as good a time as any to bring up this telling stat: Castro and Russell combine for 34 errors in the field against only 14 for Walker and Mercer. That is a huge advantage. Baserunners will be scarce in this game and if an out turns into a baserunner due to a defensive miscue, that could very well decide the game.
Castro had been swinging a hot bat in September/October (a .369 average) but has cooled recently, going hitless in nine of his last ten games. Castro has taken great strides to put together better at-bats over the past three years, with mixed results. He has lowered his strikeout rate but also is very Josh Harrison-esque in that he does not take many walks. This adds up to a paltry .OBP of .296 on the year. Still, the mere threat of offense from the SS position is enough to give the Cubs the edge here.
We round out our infielders matchup preview with the men behind the plate
Next: Behind the dish