The Pirates, winners of 98 games and losers of just 64, had the grave misfortune of playing in the same division as the 100-game winning Cardinals, thus confining themselves to validating this entire great season in one night. Win and the city of Pittsburgh breathes a sigh of relief and preps for the Cards. Lose and get ready for six months of hand-wringing and second-guessing of the 2015 season.
Depending on how granular you want to get, the Pirates have what seems to be a nigh-impossible task ahead of them on Wednesday in the Wild Card game. In order to justify the 2015 season, the Pirates have to get past one Jake Arrieta.
- The big picture of Arrieta — Arrieta finished the season at 22-6, with a 1.77 ERA/2.35 FIP (7.3 WAR). He’ll probably finish anywhere from 1st to 3rd in the NL Cy Young voting, which shows how dominant Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke have been this year.
- Refining the lens slightly — Arrieta went 11-0 in August and September/October with a 0.41 ERA. Yes, that is a zero in front of a decimal point for a pitcher’s ERA over a two month time period.
- Focusing further — Arrieta went 3-1 with a 0.75 ERA against the Pirates this year. He’s made those games look easy. In 36 IP, he gave up just 18 hits, struck out 33 and walked only 5.
- Down to the smallest of grains — The last time the Pirates faced Arrieta was September 27th on Sunday Night Baseball when he pitched 7 innings of 1 hit ball with no walks and 9 strikeouts. He effortlessly breezed through a very good Pirates lineup using a 96 mph fastball coupled with his odd 90 mph sinker/cutter.
I suppose this is where I could use some stats to bolster hopes that Arrieta can be beaten. Perhaps by saying on the road against right-handed batters, Arrieta is a quasi-mortal by allowing a .217 AVG/.271 OBP/.330 SLG (601 OPS), which is much better than the numbers against left-handed batters (.159 AVG/.208 OBP/.215 SLG, 423 OPS). But I can’t. In order to beat Arrieta, the Pirates have to use a fuzzy concept that can’t be quantified — ‘hope’.
They have to hope that Arrieta’s 229 innings in 2015, far exceeding his previous season-high of the 175 combined innings last year between the majors and minors, will all start to take a toll on him (suddenly) on Wednesday. They have to hope that Arrieta’s first foray of pitching in the postseason will rattle him enough to give the Pirates a crack to exploit. They have to hope that the law of averages reverses itself to their favor on Wednesday — a guy can’t be this good for this continuous of a period, right?
The crazy part is that whoever escapes the gauntlet of the Wild Card game is my pick to represent the NL in the World Series. I don’t need to extol the virtues of the Pirates too much for you, if you’ve been a reader of TPOP for any amount of time. A rotation of Cole-Liriano-Burnett (or Happ, if the Pirates are playing in St. Louis when Burnett’s turn would come up) is a strong 1-2-3 that matches up well with any of the other NL teams. Their offense is balanced throughout the lineup with enough power and speed. The Cubs have a great 1-2 at the top of the rotation with Arrieta and Lester, with a serviceable Jason Hammel as their probable 3rd starter. Their offense is even better than the Pirates with the rookies and younglings of Bryant/Schwarber/Russell/Rizzo comprising a strong lineup with great complementary hitters like Fowler, Soler, and Montero, as well.
The 2015 Pirates finished with the 3rd most wins in franchise history. That’s a history stretching back to 1887, by the way, so there’s a track record of years there. It will be…disheartening…is that the word I’m looking for? I suppose ‘disheartening’ will do. It will be disheartening for this outstanding season to be defined by this one game. The only way for the Pirates to continue the narrative, I suppose, is to take care of business at home against Jake Arrieta in front of a raucous PNC Park crowd.