With the National League Wild Card game only a few hours away I’m going to keep this story short and sweet. The game is featuring a NL Central Division rivalry with two of the game’s best teams and two of MLB’s best pitchers, Jake Arrieta and Gerrit Cole. That showdown on the mound is truly where this game will be decided.
We all know the narrative for tonight’s game. Arrieta has been on fire since the All-Star break. His current run is one for the ages and he’s looking to continue on his current 22-scoreless innings streak tonight at PNC Park. He doesn’t hurt that in five starts he’s 3-1 with 0.75 ERA against the Buccos.
Now, Cole hasn’t been all that bad against the opposition either. Posting a 2-1 record with a 2.13 ERA against the Cubs this year. Yet, I’m not so sure the young buc is ready for the sort of pressure tonight’s game brings. This is his moment to step up, take over the game, and lead his team towards the beginning of a potential World Series run. Problem is – I don’t think Cole is ready to do that quite yet.
Pirates fans will detest that fact claiming he’s been stellar all year round and while that is certainly true, this one-game playoff is a completely different beast. This is one game where you cannot mess up; you cannot let the anticipation of the moment break you. Personally, I think tonight may be the night where Cole finally shows his age.
While the home crowd may help him I still see this match-up favoring the Cubbies and Arrieta. While Arreita’s comments earlier this week may certainly rile up Pirates fans I don’t think he at all will be affected by this situation. On the contrary, the fact he came out and called Pirates’ fans out tells me he is ready to relish tonight’s moment – he wants it all on him. An attribute I don’t currently see from Cole (regardless of what the Pittsburgh press says).
Plus, we all have to keep in mind that during last year’s game versus the San Francisco Giants PNC Park’s boisterous crowd feel silent following Brandon Crawford’s grand slam. The crowd – the city – wasn’t the same after that. After the 4th inning the game was over. So much for being one of the loudest stadiums in the MLB; fans will need to stay loud throughout the entire game if they want to have a chance at rattling Arrieta and Co. Albeit, looking at the Cubs lineup and seeing power hitting first baseman, Anthony Rizzo whose career average is .353 against Cole, history may very well repeat itself tonight (doesn’t help that rookie sensation, Kris Bryant is hitting .333 against Cole)
I will admit that this game is all on Arrieta. He needs to continue pitching damn near perfect and he needs to pitch a whole game. If he can pitch into the 8th inning or even a complete game, the Buccos will lose. However, if he is pulled in the sixth or shortly after then this will give the Pirates and their stellar bullpen a serious advantage.
This game comes down to pitching and right now you cannot bet against Arrieta. Granted this is October and we all know there’s a majestic quality to playoff baseball where anything can happen, but I think fate is on the Cubs’ side tonight.
My X-Factors outside of Arrieta and Cole
Chicago Cubs: Rizzo – He belted 31 homers this year with 101RBI. Considering his impressive average against Cole he could pose a serious problem for the Pirates tonight.
Pittsburgh Pirates – Starling Marte – Yes, Andrew McCutchen is the Buccos best player, but tonight Marte needs to continue coming up with clutch hits and fielding (Marte’s career average is .235 against Arrieta). Cutch will do his thing, but the Pirates need Marte to get on base and be a base running threat all game.
Chicago Cubs 2 Pittsburgh Pirates 0