Chicago Cubs @ Pittsburgh PiratesPiratesCubs Wednesday, October 7, 7:08 PM CT
PNC Park, Pittsburgh, PA

The National League Wildcard Game will be played on Wednesday night with the Pittsburgh Pirates hosting the Chicago Cubs. This matchup presents two young, upcoming teams from the NL Central division. To add even more intrigue to the matchup, the winner of this game will face the NL Central division winning St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS.

While many may be talking about the potent forces in both teams’ lineups offensively, it’s the pitching matchup that’s going to make this a must-watch game. The Cubs will be pitching Jake Arrieta, the probable NL Cy Young Award winner. Arrieta has been unhittable during the second half of the season, which included a no-hitter in late August in Los Angeles against the Dodgers. On the season, he finished with a 22-6 record to go along with a stellar 1.77 ERA. The Pirates starting pitcher for the game, Gerrit Cole, is not much worse. He finished the season with a 19-8 record to go along with a 2.60 ERA.

Starting Lineups

Below are the probable starting lineups for both teams on Wednesday night.


CF Dexter Fowler (.250 BA, 17 HR, 46 RBI, 20 SB, 156 games)
RF Kyle Schwarber (.246 BA, 16 HR, 43 RBI, 3 SB, 69 games)
LF Kris Bryant (.275 BA, 26 HR, 99 RBI, 13 SB, 151 games)
1B Anthony Rizzo (.278 BA, 31 HR, 101 RBI, 17 SB, 160 games)
3B Tommy La Stella (.269 BA, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 2 SB, 33 games)
2B Starlin Castro (.265 BA, 11 HR, 69 RBI, 5 SB, 151 games)
C   Miguel Montero (.248 BA, 15 HR, 53 RBI, 1 SB, 113 games)
SS Addison Russell (.242 BA, 13 HR, 54 RBI, 4 SB, 142 games)
P   Jake Arrieta (22-6, 1.77 ERA)


RF Gregory Polanco (.256 BA, 9 HR, 52 RBI, 27 SB, 153 games)
3B Josh Harrison (.287 BA, 4 HR, 28 RBI, 10 SB, 114 games)
LF Starling Marte (.287 BA, 19 HR, 81 RBI, 30 SB, 153 games)
CF Andrew McCutchen (.292 BA, 23 HR, 96 RBI, 11 SB, 157 games)
C   Francisco Cervelli (.295 BA, 7 HR, 43 RBI, 1 SB, 130 games)
2B Neil Walker (.269 BA, 16 HR, 71 RBI, 4 SB, 151 games)
SS Jordy Mercer (.244 BA, 3 HR, 34 RBI, 116 games)
1B Sean Rodriguez (.246 BA, 4 HR, 17 RBI, 2 SB, 139 games)
P   Gerrit Cole (19-8, 2.60 ERA)

Advantage: Cubs or Pirates?

Below, you will see a table indicating the team with the advantage in the above categories. Both teams are very evenly matched.

Position Cubs Pirates
Catcher Cervelli
First Base Rizzo
Second Base Walker
Shortstop Russell
Third Base Harrison
Left Field Marte
Center Field McCutchen
Right Field Polanco
Starting Pitcher Arrieta
Bullpen Hughes, Bastardo, Watson, Melancon
Bench (EVEN) Harrison, Morse, Rodriguez, Snider Soler, Jackson, La Stella, Herrera
Manager Maddon

Keys to the Game

  1. Starting Pitching: Arrieta is absolutely dominant on the road. On the season, he posted a 13-1 record with a 1.60 ERA in his road starts. Additionally, in his four starts against the Pirates this season, he went 3-1 with a 0.75 ERA. If the Pirates are going to have any remote chance to score on Arrieta, they must work to drive up his pitch count in the early innings of the game. If they are able to do so, they must pray that his pitch count gets high enough in the 7th or 8th inning, forcing the Cubs to go to their rather sketchy bullpen.
  2. Managers: Joe Maddon and Clint Hurdle are two of the best managers in the game, and have plenty of big game experience. Both led teams to the World Series (Hurdle with Colorado in 2007, Maddon with Tampa Bay in 2008). They are not afraid to over-manage in games like these, so I expect lots of pitching moves and lots of offensive moves if it’s a close game in the later moves. Expect them to appeal to different matchups. PNC Park is a hitter friendly park for a left-handed hitter, so I expect both managers to use the lefties out of their bullpens.
  3. Bullpen: The Pirates bullpen is dominant as the game approaches the later innings, including two solid left-handed relievers in Antonio Bastardo and Tony Watson, and a closer who led all of Major League Baseball in saves this past season in Mark Melancon. If Cole is able to get through six or seven great innings and hand the game off to his bullpen, the Pirates should be in good shape. On the other hand, the Cubs have an incredibly inconsistent bullpen outside of closer, Hector Rondon. They need Arrieta to pitch deep into this game.
  4. Middle Infield Defense: Starlin Castro and Addison Russell swapped positions mid-season, and it has paid off for the Cubs over the last couple months. Russell, known primarily for his glove work, appears to be the shortstop of the future for the Cubs. The double-play duo of Castro and Russell made 37 combined errors on the season. The Pirates will certainly put the ball in play, and force the defense to make some plays with their top-of-the-lineup speed, so Russell and Castro must be perfect in the field during this game.
  5. That One Big Hit: This game could easily come down to the wire, and a star player may have to come up with a clutch hit. Could it be Andrew McCutchen? Could it be Anthony Rizzo? We shall see!


While Jake Arrieta has been the game’s most dominant pitcher all season long, I still do not see the Pirates losing two straight wildcard games at home. After losing last year’s wildcard game at PNC Park to the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants, the Pirates come back this season more prepared and determined. I also think the Pirates could really give the Cardinals a run for their money in the NLDS.

The Cubs are going to strike first early in the game off Cole, and lead 1-0, until the Pirates break the tie in the 6th inning. Both teams will enter the 8th inning in a tie game, while forced to use their bullpens for the rest of the game. The Pirates will get a couple of runners on in the 8th inning, and it will be former Cub Aramis Ramirez, who will come up with a key hit with runners on base for the Pirates in the bottom of the 8th, allowing closer Mark Melancon to finish off the Cubbies in the top of the 9th.

Sorry Cubs fans, but 2015 is not the year—just like the past 107 years.

Final: Pirates 3, Cubs 1


Image: Cubs vs. Pirates