Craig Calcaterra

PNC Park

Playoff Reset: The NL Wild Card Game

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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:

The Game: Chicago Cubs vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, National League Wild Card Game
The Time: 8:08 PM Eastern.
The Place: PNC Park, Pittsburgh
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Jake Arrieta vs. Gerrit Cole

The Upshot:

  • 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.

Photo of the Day: Colby Rasmus just wants to love on everybody

Colby Rasmus
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Colby Rasmus hit a big home run last night to set off the scoring and to set the tone for the Astros.

After the game he spoke to Jeff Passan of Yahoo and voiced some nice perspective and maturity as well, acknowledging that his time and St. Louis and Toronto left him with a reputation that he’d rather not have follow him around forever, saying “I don’t want them to say Colby Rasmus was a piece of crap because he had all of this time and just wanted to be a douche. I just try to love on everybody.”

Fair. By the way, this is what Rasmus looked like either just before or just after telling reporters that he “just tries to love on everybody.”

 

Ready for some lovin’?

Who should you root for in the playoffs?

Mets Fans
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If you are a fan of the Yankees, Astros, Blue Jays, Royals, Rangers, Pirates, Cubs, Cardinals, Mets or Dodgers, your life is pretty easy. Your team is in the playoffs and you thus have someone to root for. Enjoy!

But what if your team isn’t in the playoffs? Then what do you do?

Well, the first thing you do is go to SI and follow the great Emma Span’s flowchart which picks a rooting interest for you. It has important considerations for you there which feed into this data-driven solution. Things like how you feel about underdogs, what kind of monster movies you like, your beard preferences and where you fall on the bunting/shifting/irritation scale. Go run your own preferences through the flowchat, but in the meantime know that it gave me the Royals, which is 100% baloney, but let’s not blame Emma for that. She does God’s work most of the time.

If I’m being less scientific, when my Braves are not in the playoffs I generally choose based on my gut, and my gut tends to like (a) individual players more than teams; (b) pitching more than hitting; and (c) newer playoff faces instead of ones who are there every damn year. These aren’t hard and fast rules — I want to see the Dodgers do well because I like Kershaw, Greinke and Puig, but they aren’t new faces and big payroll teams can get bent —  but in generally they hold.

Here are some pros and cons of your potential rooting interests:

YANKEES

Pro: They’re actually underdogs this year, at least according to the oddmakers. Rooting for A-Rod is always a good thing because he is all that is right and just in baseball.

Con: They’re still the friggin’ Yankees and who, besides Yankees fans, roots for the Yankees?

ASTROS

Pro: They’re young and plucky and were supposed to be years away from contention and worst-to-first stories are grand.

Con: If you don’t like sabermetrics and stuff this club might annoy you. Of course if that’s a basis for annoyance for you, you’re probably not reading this blog too often.

BLUE JAYS

Pro: If you dig the longball, these are your huckleberries. Rogers Centre is going to be rocking like crazy, and that’s fun to see.

Con: You’re such a Trump supporter that you’re worried about the NORTHERN border too and you’d feel way more comfortable if there weren’t reasons for foreigners to travel here. Also: the more they advance, the more likely it is that you’re gonna hear Rush music as bumpers between innings.

ROYALS

Pro: Good defense is great. Teams with lots of contributors instead of a couple of megastars are great. They came so close last year and seeing those finally-got-over-the-mountain teams break through is pretty neat. At least it was back when the Bulls followed the Pistons who followed the Celtics. Torch-passing is cool.

Con: Baseball writers online telling you all about their barbecue experiences. Those guys are the worst.

RANGERS

Pro: They came outta nowhere and, the longer they play, the more likely it is we’ll get to see Prince Fielder leg out extra bases. If Josh Hamilton makes the World Series it’ll be even more of an eff you to Arte Moreno, who really deserves an eff you over how he handled the Josh Hamilton situation.

Con: With games in Dallas broadcast by Fox, we’ll almost certainly get some gimmicky double-broadcast stunts from Joe Buck.

PIRATES

Pro: Andrew McCutchen is fun to watch and it would be a shame if, like the early 90s, they had a megastar on the Pirates who just never quite made it to the World Series.

Con: Everyone’s gonna be mad at ’em if they eliminate the Cubs, who are likely going to be every bandwagon fan’s choice this year. Or maybe that’s a pro. Depends on how angry you like everyone to be.

CUBS

Pro: A lotta fun players on this club and, for as much of a joke and sense of identity it has become, you have to be pretty hard hearted to not at least be somewhat happy for a team breaking a 107-year World Series championship drought.

Con: I think Joe Maddon is a great manager, but the way the media treats him when his teams are doing well is pretty insufferable. The entire World Series broadcast will be people lauding his singular wisdom for bringing the Cubs back to life and forgetting that a multi-year rebuild has just gone down.

CARDINALS

Pro: I’ll get back to you on this one. I honestly can’t think of a single reason why a non-Cards fans would root for the Cardinals. They’re not underdogs. They’re in it every year, it seems. People say I hate the Cardinals and that’s not true, but I am very weary of the Cardinals and their storylines much the same way so many people were tied of seeing the Red Sox and Yankees deep into the playoffs every season.

Cons: Pick any number of things. I would venture to say that, if one could measure such a thing, the Cards will have fewer non-Cards fans rooting for them this month than any other team will have non-fans rooting for them.

METS

Pro: Lots of pros here. Perpetual underdogs and sad sacks. Great pitching. They’ve been out of it for years. Cool players like Cespedes and Bartolo and deGrom and Harvey and everyone. Far fewer annoying celebrity fans than the Yankees have. Just a solid, solid choice for a rent-a-root situation, and I say that even as a guy who normally hates the Mets because they’re in my team’s division. Just go with it.

Cons: If they do go far it may get exhausting. Aligning yourself with Mets fans is to align yourself with misery. They could be up 5-0 in Game 7 of the World Series and Mets fans will be worrying about the bullpen and bitching about how they didn’t close it out in five. It’s just always like that with them.

DODGERS

Pro: Fun players in Greinke, Kershaw and Puig. Nice camera shots of the L.A. sunset after they come back from commercial. Good vibes for Vin Scully.

Cons: They are the anti-underdog given their payroll and three straight division titles. I have heard rumors that some people don’t like Yasiel Puig as much as I do, though I have discounted them as slander. Fox’s “spot a celebrity from an upcoming Fox show who just happens to be in the crowd here tonight” game will go into overdrive.

So there are the metrics. Choose wisely.