Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates set to face Arrieta and Cubs in NL Wild Card game


A long 162-game season has finally come to an end for the Pittsburgh Pirates and every other team across baseball. This team’s reward? Facing a pitcher on one of the best, most historic streaks in baseball history. While we can complain about the playoff format all offseason long, let’s take this time to take one final look at this game before it gets underway.

The Pirates finished the regular season at 98-64, good for the second-best record in all of baseball, but still two games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central. The Chicago Cubs finished just one game behind the Pirates at 97-65, as the three best records in all of baseball came from the same division for the first time in MLB history. The Pirates have home field in this matchup, which helped them greatly in their 2013 Wild Card contest against the Reds, but was a non-factor in a Madison Bumgarner dominant effort last season. The game is set to get underway at 8:08 PM on Wednesday night and will be televised nationally on TBS. The winner of this one-game contest will move on to face the Cardinals in a best-of-five NLDS series opposite the Dodgers and the Mets.

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But the Pirates aren’t worrying about the road ahead. Instead, they have to devote every bit of their focus to Jake Arrieta, a former journeyman who has turned from a below-average, bad pitcher with the Orioles to a great pitcher last season and a CY Young candidate this season. Arrieta’s dominance comes from his delivery on the mound as well as five different pitches that he can throw. Opposite Arrieta on the mound will be Gerrit Cole, who pitched to a 2.45 ERA and a minuscule 0.64 WHIP in the 2013 postseason against the Cardinals and has grown into a legitimate ace of this staff and one of the best pitchers in the National League. Francisco Liriano was chosen to start the 2013 Wild Card game over Cole, and Cole was burned in the last series of the year last season as Hurdle tried to catch the Cardinals for the division crown. Now, Cole finally has his chance to take center stage and show the world that he is truly one of the best pitchers in the game.

Let’s take a quick look at the numbers for these two pitchers this season:

RHP Gerrit Cole – 19-8, 2.60 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 202 strikeouts

RHP Jake Arrieta – 22-6, 1.77 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 236 strikeouts

Pitching analysis:

On the surface, it’s clear to see that Arrieta has better numbers across the board, and he’ll take the focus of the national spotlight in this game. Arrieta has posted a 0.75 ERA since the All-Star break, including an ERA of 0.43 in August and 0.45 in September. He’s allowed just four earned runs since the beginning of August, and he hasn’t lasted less than six innings in an outing since June 16th. He almost always throws over 100 pitches in every outing, though this heavy workload doesn’t seem to negatively affect him at all. He also hasn’t allowed more fly balls than ground balls in a start since August 9th. And to put a cherry on top, Arrieta is 3-1 with a 0.75 ERA in five starts against the Pirates this season. Yeah, he’s been that good.

But every magical run has to eventually come to an end, and who better to help end it than Gerrit Cole. Cole has been fantastic this season in his own right, and he’s been the model of consistency all year long. Cole comes into this contest having tossed three consecutive outings of seven-plus innings allowing three runs or less, but it is of note that his ERA in September of 3.29 was his worst ERA in any month this season. September has been the time when Cole’s shined in the previous two seasons, so this is a change to say the least. On the positive side, Cole hasn’t allowed more than five earned runs in any outing this season, and he’s only allowed more than three runs in three outings all year. Cole’s only had double-digit strikeouts in one game this season, so don’t expect a high strikeout total on Wednesday night. But what you can expect and hope for is at least six or seven innings of work and three runs or less on the board for the Cubs. He has the potential to do even better and pitch a seven inning shutout, so don’t count out Cole and the Pirates just yet.

Starting pitching is only one factor for this game. Let’s take a look at how Pirate batters have fared against Arrieta in their careers, and then let’s look at how Cubs’ batters have fared against Cole.

Pirates’ batters v. Arrieta:

Andrew McCutchen27238200137.348.444.435.87910
Neil Walker26254100116.
Aramis Ramirez21192000012.
Pedro Alvarez19172001124.
Starling Marte18174000004.
Gregory Polanco16163000105.
Francisco Cervelli13132000105.
Josh Harrison10101100002.
Mike Morse992100102.222.222.333.55600
Travis Snider551000002.
Jordy Mercer440000001.
Jaff Decker110000001.
Travis Ishikawa110000001.

As we can see here, the stats back up Arrieta’s dominance of the Pirates. Andrew McCutchen does have a .348 average against him in 23 at-bats, and he could be the key to jolting this Pirate offense against him. No other Pirate hitter bats above .235 against him for their careers, however, and Pedro Alvarez is the only current Pirate to have hit a home run against him. And that home run was an inside-the-park home run. Yeah, it’s going to be difficult to generate power against Arrieta. Starling Marte is the next-best hitter against Arrieta, and if he can get on base in front of McCutchen, there’s an outside shot that good things could happen.

Cubs’ batters v. Cole

Anthony Rizzo20176100123.353.450.412.86210
Starlin Castro19176000414.353.368.353.72100
Chris Coghlan17132000125.
Dexter Fowler15143000014.
Kris Bryant1193000026.333.455.333.78800
Chris Denorfia763100010.500.571.6671.23800
Addison Russell772000102.
Jorge Soler772000002.
Javier Baez661001103.167.167.667.83300
Tommy La Stella661100100.167.167.333.50000
Kyle Schwarber651000011.200.333.200.53300
Miguel Montero553000101.600.600.6001.20000
David Ross550000003.
Jonathan Herrera220000001.
Matt Szczur1110002001.0001.0001.0002.00000

Unfortunately, the Cubs’ have hit Cole well for their careers. Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro kill Cole, especially Castro, who has four career home runs against him. Even the young players in Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Jorge Soler have all managed to get hits against him. But it seems like those hits haven’t always resulted in runs, and the Cubs have only netted 12 total RBIs against Cole. Gerrit has been able to strand these Cubs’ players in the past, so he could do that again in the Wild Card game. Another figure to look at: only two of the 132 at-bats against Cole from the current Cub batters (pitchers excluded) have resulted in double plays. You’d generally like that figure to be higher, and if Cubs’ batters get on base, don’t expect many double plays.

Cubs’ hitter to be wary of:

Anthony Rizzo, plain and simple. He’s a big power bat in the middle of the Cubs’ lineup, and he’s arguably the best Cubs’ player that has had the most success career-wise against Cole. One swing from him could change this game, so he will be pitched more carefully by Cole than probably any other Cub.

Final prediction:

This Wild Card game has all the makings of a low-scoring pitcher’s duel. I know how magical Arrieta has been this season, but I also know how magical this season has been for the Pirates. The Pirates have experience on their side, while the Cubs have a lot of youth. The Pirates beat Arrieta back in May of this year, and they hung with him back on September 16th, as he left when the game was tied. Cole is ready to show that this game isn’t all about Arrieta. I think the Cubs’ time will come in the next year or two, but this is the Pirates’ year. This magical season continues as the Pirates find a way to best the Cubs behind a masterful performance from Cole in a 3-2 victory.

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