The Pirates have a date with Jake Arrieta on Wednesday, as they will face off against the Chicago Cubs in the infamous Wild Card game. As we know, this will be the Pirates third straight Wild Card appearance and they currently hold a 1-1 record in the previous two. Anything can happen, right?
The task ahead will be a difficult one as Jake Arrieta has channeled his inner Bob Gibson since the beginning of June. Just for a little perspective, the Cubs are 20-3 since Arrieta started on June 4 and his ERA in that span is a miniscule 1.21. Over the past two months, his ERA sits at a historical 0.41 ERA. What is even more fun is that his ERA against our beloved Pirates is 0.75 in five starts. But enough about the numbers, we get it, Jake Arrieta is good. How on earth are the Pirates going to beat him in a one game playoff?
Get to him early
In the four starts in which Arrieta has given up four earned runs (the most he’s given up in a start this year), at least two runs were scored in the first three innings. Arrieta has also walked 11 batters in the first inning, more than any other inning this year. Be patient early, as nerves will present in this do or die game. If they don’t want this game to come down to the bullpens, the Pirates must strike early. Getting an early lead would be crucial to calming down not only the fans, but loosening up the players a little bit. Jake Arrieta has pretty much cruised all year and hasn’t face much adversity. If he gets down early, he very well could be different pitcher.
Eye for an Eye
What a lot of people are forgetting about this game is that the Pittsburgh Pirates have a premier ace as well. Gerrit Cole has been phenomenal this year and has been great against the Cubs, holding a 2.13 ERA in four starts and striking out 11.4 per nine innings (the most against any team he has faced this year). Cole has pitched in the postseason. In the 2013 NLDS, Gerrit shut down the Cardinals in Game 2 then lost in Game 5. He knows the intensity and potential heartbreak of pitching in the postseason that Arrieta has not yet experienced. If the Pirates offense can’t put up some runs against Arrieta, Cole is will have to shut it down and make it a bullpen game.
The pride of Pittsburgh must come up huge in this game. McCutchen is batting .348 off of Arrieta in his career and .333 against him this year. He has had by far the most success against the Cubs’ ace this year as Neil Walker is the only other Pirate hitting higher than .200 against him. Its obviously going to take more than McCutchen to do damage against Jake Arrieta but it is essential that he be a primary source of the offense.
Don’t Try to Kill the Ball
The last time the Pirates faced Arrieta, they almost didn’t get a hit. Throughout the game, many hardy cuts were taken and the Pirates had 13 swings and misses. Arrieta struck out nine batters through seven innings and the rest was history. The Pirates must focus on staying short to the baseball and making contact. Odds are they are not going to take Arrieta deep as only one Pirate, Pedro Alvarez, has a career home run off of him. It was an inside-the-park home run.
Get Lucky! (Or Play Defense)
Baseball is a funny sport. Crazy things can happen. Maybe Arrieta throws the ball over his first baseman’s head. Maybe Cueto drops the ball. One thing is certain. For the Pirates to get the lucky breaks, they must play solid defense. Sadly, that may be harder than actually getting to Arrieta as the defense has been shaky all year. It will be interesting to see what lineup Clint Hurdle goes with Wednesday. Will it be focused towards offense or defense? Whatever the lineup may be, the Pirates MUST play sound defense to win this game. If they can play solid defense and catch a break here and there, they Pirates will find a way to win this game.
More than likely, this game will be close all the way until the end. More than likely, this game will low scoring. That is why baseball and sports in general are so great. You can’t really predict anything. I mean, look at the AL this year. Only the Royals return to the playoffs this year from last. Therefore, my prediction will be off the wall. The Pirates will win this game 11-9 in a slugfest. Pedro Alvarez will hit a go-ahead two-run shot in the bottom of the eighth inning after Joe Maddon chose to stick with Pedro Strop rather than going to a lefty. Ironically, that home run will save Alvarez after his huge error that allowed the Cubs to score two runs earlier in the game. The Buccos will then go on to win the World Series.