After what seems like a miracle occurred over the weekend in Milwaukee, the Pittsburgh Pirates left Miller Park with four wins and a sweep under their belt. Now, as the Wild Card race heats up, the Pirates head to Wrigley Field to face the Cubs.
Well, it’s finally happened. Hell has frozen over. Pigs are flying. The Pittsburgh Pirates swept the Milwaukee Brewers in a 4-game series at Miller Park. Objectively speaking, we shouldn’t really be surprised. The Brewers are bad, and the Pirates are pretty good. But when you take into account the Pirates horrifying record in Milwaukee over the years, this weekend’s sweep comes as a pleasant surprise and a shot in the arm to a struggling Buccos team hoping to make the postseason.
The celebrations need to be short-lived, however. Now, the Pirates head to Wrigley Field for a three-game road series against the Chicago Cubs. Just in case you have been in a coma for the past two years and haven’t realized it yet, these Cubs are really good. After a breakout year last season, Chicago is leading the NL Central by a whopping 14.5 games with a record of 82-46, cementing themselves as one of the teams to beat in the MLB. They’ve got lights-out pitching and some real superstars in that lineup. It will be tough, but not impossible, for the Pirates to eek out a vital series win in Chicago. Here is what to look out for.
None of these pitching match-ups bode especially well for the Pirates. Gerrit Cole was originally scheduled to start Monday’s game in an epic redeeming rematch of last year’s NL Wild Card game, one that most Pirates’ fans would like to forget. But after Cole’s recent spell of mediocre-at-best pitching and some elbow discomfort, his turn in the rotation will now be skipped as he is flying out to Los Angeles on Sunday for tests on the elbow in question.
Jake Arrieta is an absolute beast. The 30-year-old TCU product is 16-5 this season, with a 2.62 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP, an 8.80 K/9, a .183 BAA, and 158 strikeouts in 161.2 innings. He is highly touted as one of the best pitchers in baseball, and any game against him is crucial, especially this late in the season when the team is trying to gain ground in the Wild Card race.
No pressure, right Steven Brault? The lefty has only started two games for the Pirates and was decent in both. He gave up one earned run in four innings in a no-decision vs. St. Louis in his first start. Then gave up three earned runs in six innings in a loss to Milwaukee in his second. He has pitched before in the Majors, but, obviously, this is a bit of a trial by fire for Brault. If he can give the Pirates six good innings they have a chance to dethrone the mighty Arrieta.
Players to Watch:
Francisco Cervelli has been fairly up and down this season. He has been a decent player for the club this year. However, his power numbers are way down and could use a boost. Cervelli has yet to hit a home run this season, and has only accumulated nine extra-base hits, 27 RBIs, and a .308 slugging percentage. Obviously, he provides important defensive stability and a good contact bat, but if he can step into a few extra-base hits this week, it will help the Pirates immensely.
Jordy Mercer just goes about his business. You’ll hardly ever notice it, but Jordy is an elite defensive shortstop who can hit a little bit too. Mercer currently has a fielding percentage of .986 and has only committed seven errors all season long. When you are going against a team that is better than you on paper, defensive execution can be the difference between winning and losing, and Jordy Mercer is a key component in the Pirates’ defensive efficiency.
These two are a little obvious. But, they will really be the key guys in Chicago’s lineup to watch. It is fairly simple: if the Pirates can contain Rizzo and Bryant, they have a good chance of leaving this series with a win or two. But if they are not contained, things could quickly turn ugly. These two could both be MVP candidates, in my book, combining for 60 home runs, 178 RBIs, and a .301 batting average (286-950). Keeping the dynamic in check will be dire if the Bucs want to sneak out of Chicago with a series win.
Oh, and Kris Bryant is only 24 years old, so we had better get used to him.
On paper, this doesn’t look good for our beloved Buccos. But luckily, games aren’t played on paper. They’re played on a baseball field, where every pitcher has to give every batter his chance at making an impact on the game. Unfortunately, right now, I think their players have a slight edge over ours, especially when it comes to pitching.
The Cubs take the series from the Pirates by two games to one, after three close, hard-fought battles. I miss when the Cubs were bad.