With the Wild Card game coming up today between our old friends the Cubs and the Pirates, I thought I’d take a brief look at both, tell who I’d prefer to face (though honestly, neither one is appealing, but that’s pretty much true of every team. Nobody said the playoffs were going to be easy, after all) and then give an amateurish prediction as to who’ll win.
Chicago, as you know, is a team loaded with young talent, but the guy that scares me the most is a 29 year old former Oriole. Jake Arrieta has revived his career in Chicago. Actually he’s become better than he ever was in Baltimore, which probably has many in that organization wondering “where that guy was when *we* had him???” Luckily, he is pitching the WC game, so that may minimize his influence in the division series. He’ll start at least once, with a possibility of starting a second time in game five if the series goes that far. The rest of the rotation drops off a bit after him and Jon Lester, and the bullpen isn’t as deep as Pittsburgh’s. Hector Rondon has a good year as the closer, and they have some solid arms in there, but it’s not as good as Pittsburgh’s.
As for the hitters, well they’re loaded there, particularly at the corner infield positions. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant are two good hitters who could easily be a pain in our butt if we played them. Bryant is a leading rookie of the year candidate who his .275 with 26 homers and 99 RBI’s. He also had a .369 OBP, so while he does strike out a ton (199 K’s) he does have a decent eye. As for Rizzo, he went .278/31/101 with a .387 OBP. He’s a very good hitter who I have a ton of respect for. There are other interesting peices here on offense, like Kyle Schwarber, who smacked 17 homers in 273 AB’s after he joined the club. Plus remember that everyone in this starting lineup has at least 10 or homers, so they can go deep on you.
Of the two teams, Pittsburgh is the post-season veteran, having made the playoffs the least two years. They lost the WC game last year, and lost to the Cards in the division series the year before. Like the Cubs, the Pirates have an ace I’m wary of. The difference is that Gerrit Cole is a homegrown talent, and is still young at 24. He put up some very impressive numbers for a 24 year old, going 19-8 with a 2.60 ERA, a 1.091 WHIP, a low 1.9 walks per 9 innings and a solid 8.7 K’s per 9 innings. He’s not as scary to me as Arrieta is this year, only because the Cubs ace finished the year on a heck of a run. For the long term, however, Cole is scarier. The rest of the rotation is solid, With Francisco Liriano followed by the seemingly ageless A.J. Burnett and the resurgent J.A. Happ (pitching coach Ray Searage must be working some voodoo magic up there, as he does things like this all the time.) Add to that a bullpen much deeper than Chicago’s, and you have a dangerous pitching staff.
The offense is solid too, led by the always excellent Andrew McCutchen, solid years from Pedro Alvarez and Starling Marte, and a nice year from catcher Francisco Cervelli, who was brought in to replace Russell Martin, who left via free agency. They lost a key piece though when Jung Ho Kang was injured. The Korean import had a .287/15/58 slash line along with a .355 OBP and a .461 slugging percentage that was third on the team. As a result, the offense doesn’t scare me as much as Chicago’s.
So, who would I rather face? The Pirates pitching staff is deeper overall and my rule of thumb is always choose the team with the weaker pitching. The Cubs offense won’t be fun to deal with, but I think we can get to their bullpen. Not as sure about that with Pittsburgh’s ‘pen. When it comes to the fans, it’s a different story. Pirates fans are diehards, but the Cubs fans, so desperate for a winner, are on another level, and won’t be any fun to deal with.
As to who I think will win? Arrieta has been on fire this year, and ended the year that way as well. Cole is good, but Arrieta has been better. As long as the bullpen doesn’t implode, I think the Cubs will ride their ace to an LDS matchup with the Cards.
As always, thanks for reading.