Once again, I start my post with an except from my “Inaugural Post” on Tuesday. This time, though, it’s about my NL Wild Card game prediction.
Chicago – Picking against Gerrit Cole this year is pretty silly, but picking against Jake Arrieta would be far sillier. I expect Arrieta to shine in his first postseason game and the Cubs’ young offense to find a way to get him a run or two.
Again, I was pretty much right-on with how I envisioned the game going on Wednesday night. Similar to Tuesday night’s game, offense was at a premium in Pittsburgh – 11 combined hits and 4 runs against 21 strikeouts. A great duel between one great pitching staff and… Jake Arrieta. Pirates pitchers combined for 10 strikeouts tonight, while Arrieta had 11 of his own. Spotted a lead early in the game, Arrieta worked through no more than a few bumps in the road along the way to a 4-0 Cubs victory.
The scoring started early, as Chicago leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler began the visitor’s half of the first inning with a single, promptly stole second, and scored on a single to left field by Kyle Schwarber. Pirate starting pitcher Gerrit Cole retired 6 of the next 7 batters (Anthony Rizzo reached on an error after Kris Bryant hit into a DP following Schwarber’s single) but again found trouble with the top of the lineup when Fowler singled again in his second at-bat. With one out and a runner on first, Kyle Schwarber hit a 2-1 slider over the heart of the plate to right field, out the stadium, and into the Allegheny River. Cole then walked Kris Bryant after getting ahead of him 0-2, prompting a call to the bullpen by the Pirates’ coaching staff. Cole then rolled a double-play ball to get out of the inning. Working around a Miguel Montero single in the fourth, Cole again got the first out of the inning by striking out Jake Arrieta, as he had done in the third inning. As was foreshadowed, Cole found trouble in the form of Dexter Fowler, who hit a 97 MPH fastball the other way to right for a solo homer, making the score 4-0 in favor of Chicago. The rest of the game, the Cubs’ offense was quieted by the fine work of a quartet of relievers in Antonio Bastardo, Tony Watson, Joakin Soria, and Mark Melancon. Each reliever (in that order) threw a single inning, none of whom allowed a more than one baserunner. Bastardo worked a 1-2-3 sixth, Watson allowed one man to reach on a HBP (Arrieta, which prompted a bench-clearing discussion and Sean Rodriguez to do his best Rocky Balboa impression), Soria walked the leadoff man before striking out the side, and Melancon allowed a single to Addison Russell – who was dispatched by Starling Marte while trying to stretch it into a double.
Meanwhile, as the Fowler/Schwarber combo went to work getting the Cubs the lead and furthering it, Jake Arrieta went to work spoiling the Pittsburgh hitters’ nights. Arrieta started the game off with a bang, bookending the bottom of the first with a pair of strikeouts. Striking out Neil Walker in the second and all three batters he faced in the third, Arrieta was sitting on six K’s through only three innings. Arrieta worked a quick fourth, before hitting Francisco Cervelli to lead off the fifth. Arrieta got Walker to fly out and then recorded another two strikeouts to end the fifth. Arrieta allowed two singles and plunked another batter in the sixth, loading the bases with one out. Arrieta then, for what wouldn’t be the last time of the night (see? more foreshadowing), got the Pirates to roll into a double play to end the inning. Arrieta was then plunked in his at-bat in the top of the seventh, inciting a quite disappointing battle of machismo between the two benches before everyone was sent back to their places to think about how foolish they had just acted (that is, except for Sean Rodriguez, who was sent back to the clubhouse to think about his at-bats that night… oh, right). Coming back out for the seventh, Arrieta allowed a leadoff single, but then recorded his 9th punchout of the game before getting yet another double play to silence the Pittsburgh crowd. Arrieta again bookended an inning with strikeouts (sandwiching a Mike Morse single in between) in the eighth and needed only 10 pitches (7 strikes) in the ninth to give the Cubs their first postseason win since 2003. Arrieta never needed more than 16 pitches in an inning and finished with a final line of: 9 IP, 4 H (all singles), 0 R, 0 BB. 2 HBP, 11 K, 113 pitches.
Well, I’m quite pleased with how my predictions for the 2015 Wild Card games turned out. Keuchel and Arrieta did not disappoint and the Astros and Cubs both got offense from their primary sources – home runs and young players, respectively – on their ways toward shutting out their opponents on the road. Now that the single-game playoffs are done, we can turn our attention to the true playoff series, starting with the ALDS games on Thursday:
Texas Rangers @ Toronto Blue Jays 10/8: Yovanni Gallardo (13-11, 3.42) vs. David Price (9-1, 2.30), 3:30 PM ET
Houston Astros @ Kansas City Royals 10/8: Collin McHugh (19-7, 3.89) vs. Yordano Ventura (13-8, 4.08), 7:30 PM ET
And the NLDS games on Friday:
Chicago Cubs @ St. Louis Cardinals 10/9: Jon Lester (11-12, 3.34) vs. John Lackey (13-10, 2.77), 6:30 PM ET
New York Mets @ Los Angeles Dodgers 10/9: Jacob deGrom (14-8, 2.54) vs. Clayton Kershaw (16-7, 2.13), 9:30 PM ET
Later today I’ll have a full ALDS preview/prediction post up, just in time for this afternoon’s game! Thanks for reading everyone, and as always, enjoy the game!