One one-and-done game down, one to go. Tonight the National League takes center stage and, once again, we’re in Pittsburgh for the proceedings. Let’s break it all down:
- If you forget for a moment that they’re really just a fun gimmick, Wild Card games are supposed to be the penalty imposed on good-but-less-than-great teams for not winning their division. It’s a pretty tough penalty here, however, given that the Pirates and the Cubs won 98 and 97 games, respectively. We’ve had wild card teams with as many or more wins than that in the past — the 2001 A’s (102 wins); 2002 Angels (99); 2004 Red Sox (98); and 1999 Mets (97) — but we’ve never had it in the four years of the expanded, two-wild-card-team era. These are some strong clubs, either of which would seem to deserve a longer playoff series, but them’s the breaks.
- The focus here, of course, is the pitching matchup. Jake Arrieta is a decent bet to win the NL Cy Young Award after a 22-6, 1.77 ERA 236 K, 229 IP season. Gerrit Cole is an ace too, of course, and he just had a year that would be Cy Young-worthy in a lot of seasons (19-8, 2.60 ERA, 202 Ks in 208 IP). Arrieta’s second half has been astoundingly good and he’s been fantastic against the Pirates this year, going 3-1 with a 0.75 ERA in 36 innings over five starts vs. the Buccos. Cole has four starts against Chicago this season, going 2-1 with a 2.13 ERA in 25 and a third. If you’re anxious for that Mets-Dodgers series to get going because of all the pitching porn you’re going to see there, this is a nice appetizer.
- As for lineups, Joe Maddon’s big guns are great, particularly the potent duo of Anthiny Rizzo and Kris Bryant, but the Cubs have all kinds of options up and down the lineup and, particularly in the second half, have been using any number of combinations given their strong bench. The Pirates have all-everything Andrew McCutchen leading the way, but the bottom half of the order has been scuffling in the past month or so and losing Jung Ho Kang for the season depleted the team’s depth. Overall the Pirates had a better offense than the Cubs this year but it’s hard to say, at this moment, the Cubs don’t have the better bats.
- The Cubs in general and Arrieta in particular have been a good road team this year. Late-date trolling the Cubs over not calling up Kris Bryant earlier and thereby dooming the Cubs to playing this game at PNC Park may be fun, but it’s sorta beside the point here.
- The start time, adjusted for CDT and military time is 19:08. Or 1908. Are you freaking out right now? Because you should TOTALLY be freaking out right now. [scary music plays].
The Astros and Yankees were interesting enough I suppose, but they were two teams sort of struggling their way into the playoffs. This, in contrast, is gonna be a hell of a lot of fun. Two of the best pitchers in baseball and two of the best teams in baseball facing off in front of a crowd that is likely to be insanely pumped.
I’ll make a wild guess and say the Cubs have the edge, but that’s really me flipping a coin and thinking about storylines and crap like that more than anything else. There is no obvious favorite here.