Wednesday night, PNC Park will host one of the most anticipated play in games since the 2nd wild card team was introduced in November of 2011. This year, the NL Central was home to the top 3 records in the MLB, the first time this has ever happened. And yet, on October 7th one of these teams will be going home as the Pittsburgh Pirates (98-64) host the Chicago Cubs (97-65) in a win or go home 1 game playoff. This is the first time the Cubs have been in the playoffs since they won 97 games in 2008, in which they were eventually swept in the first round by the Dodgers. Cy young candidate Jake Arrieta (22-6) will face off against Gerrit Cole (19-8) in a match-up we have yet to see this season.
Arrieta has boasted a remarkable 0.75 ERA against Pittsburgh this season which has led to a 3-1 record in 5 starts, that one loss coming in a May outing in which he gave up 1 run 7 innings of work. Opposing him is ace Gerrit Cole, who in 4 starts against the Cubs this year is 3-1 with a 2.13 era. Cole in his career against the Cubs is 7-1 with a 2.88 era and 3-0 with a 2.76 at home. The Cubs own a 11-8 record over the Pirates during the 2015 season, and also own the best road record in all of Major League Baseball sitting at 48-43. Just a few weeks ago, Chicago took 3 of 4 from the Pirates the one loss coming to Cole in a game where he went 7 innings of 1 run ball. The Pirates own the best record since May 9th at 54-30. Something has to give Wednesday night and I’m here to give you an idea of what that could be.
What the Cubs have going for them: Jake Arrieta
As stated above, Jake Arrieta has had a remarkable year against Pittsburgh. Hell he’s had a remarkable year period and also a historical second half. Since the all-star break, Arrieta has boasted a 0.75 ERA, 0.73 WHIP and a FIP that sits at 2 exactly. Arrieta also has a 13-1 record while pitching on the road this year, which is exactly what he will be doing Wednesday night in Pittsburgh. His .075 ERA against Pit is the lowest ERA they’ve had posted against them (Min 5 starts) since Carlos Zambrano back in 2004. In the 10 games that Arrieta has started in his career against the Pirates, the Cubs are 9-1. Arrieta has been absolutely lights out against the Pirates, meaning if the Cubs can scratch a run or two off of Gerrit Cole, they have a great chance of winning. In the May 16th game, Cole went 6 innings and gave up 2 runs, both Castro RBI’s, and took the loss because Jon Lester went 7 innings and only allowed 1 earned run. Castro got the scoring started with a sac fly in the first and a fielders choice which scored a run in the 3rd. Plan on Castro being in the starting line-up Wednesday as he is one of the more experienced hitters against Cole and owns a .315 batting average off of him. The only other Cubs hitter with a min of 10 at-bats and a plus-.300 average off of Cole is Anthony Rizzo, who sits at .300. The only Pirates hitter to have a plus.300 average lifetime against Arrieta is Andrew Mccutchen, who has batted .348 against him in 23 plate appearances. Pitching will be key in this match-up Another factor in favor of the Cubs is Gerrit Cole is going to be pitching on extra rest (more than 4 days), and he has a career 3.97 ERA in starts while on extra rest, while Jake Arrieta is 11-2 with a 1.02 ERA on normal rest, which is what he will be pitching on after going 6 innings of scoreless ball on Friday. Another thing to look at is the recent success of both starters. In the month of September, Gerrit Cole pitched 38 1/3 innings with a 3.29 ERA and allowed opponents to hit .231 against him, while Jake Arrieta threw 46 innings, with a record setting 0.39 ERA and while having opponents hit .141 against him.
What the Pirates have going for them: Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen
The Pirates are 8-1 when Cole takes the mound against the Cubs in his young career as a starter, the one loss coming in a pitchers duel with Jon Lester back on May 16th. Cole has only given up 2 homeruns to Cubs hitters, one to Javier Baez last year and another to Arismendy Alcantara, who isn’t even on the major league roster. In 63 1/3 innings this year neither the Pirates or Cubs have homered off of Cole or Arrieta, so don’t expect power to be on display when these two teams meet up. Andrew McCuthcen is probably going to finish in the top 10 in the MVP voting this season and has always been one of the Pirates best players in recent seasons. He’s also the only Pirate hitter to have any type of success against starter Jake Arrieta as he hits .333 in 12 at-bats this season, although Arrieta has owned him in recent outings.
Look for both teams to be aggressive as both Cole and Arrieta are among the league leaders in stolen bases allowed as Cole has allowed 25 and Arrieta 27, and we all know Montero and Cervelli are no Molina. A stolen base or two will be a huge advantage against these two pitchers, as its are for teams to string hits off of them, so any type of extra bases will be huge.
Here are what I believe will be the starting line-ups when Wednesday roles around and their batting averages off the starter:
Dexter Fowler CF – .200 (3-15)
Kyle Schwarber RF- .200 (1-5)
Kris Bryant LF- .272 (3-11)
Anthony Rizzo 1B .300 (6-20)
Starlin Castro 2B .315 (6-19)
Miguel Montero C .600 (3-5)
Javier Baez 3B .166 (1-6)
Jake Arrieta P
Addison Russell SS- .285 (2-7)
Expect Maddon to go with a more defensive oriented infield as Jake Arrieta is more of a ground ball pitcher (52.6 GB%) and the Pirates hit the ball on the ground quite a bit, 8th in the league in outs made on the ground compared to the air. Look for Austin Jackson and Tommy LaStella to come off the bench late in the game as defensive replacements and for Jorge Soler, Chris Denorfia and Chris Coghlan to come in to pinch hit. LaStella could also come in and pinch hit as he has thrived in that role this year.
Gregory Polanco RF – .188 (3-16)
Starling Marte LF – .235 (4-17)
Andrew McCutchen CF – .348 (8-23)
Aramis Ramirez 3B -.105 (2-19)
Neil Walker 2B – .160 (4-25)
Francisco Cervelli C – .154 (2-13)
Pedro Alvarez 1B – .118 (2-17)
Jordy Mercer SS – .000 (0-4)
Gerrit Cole P
Cubs 3 Pirates 1
Look for the Cubs to scratch a few early runs off of Cole and the Pirates to grab one late off a Cubs reliever but I think Jake Arrieta is just too much for the Pirates and the Cubs advance to face another division rival Friday in the St. Louis Cardinals.