2015 National League Wild Card: Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates Preview

In Major League Baseball’s second act, a Wednesday, October 7th, 2015, Wild-Card contest will determine the Final Four in the National League. The junior circuit determined their divisional series matchups when the Houston Astros defeated the New York Yankees 3-0 at Yankee Stadium.  Tonight’s postseason playoff event pits the visiting Chicago Cubs against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.

Tonight’s matchup between the Cubs and the Pirates will dictate who advances to the National League Divisional Series to meet the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium for Game #1 on Friday night, October 9th.

Both teams send Cy Young candidates to the hill in Jake Arrieta and Gerrit Cole. After spending the entire spring and summer executing a 162-game slate the two NL clubs that take the field tonight, Pittsburgh and Chicago, represent the second and third best records. respectively, in the major leagues.

Gameday Vitals
Chicago Cubs (-130, 5.5) at Pittsburgh Pirates
Time: 8:00 PM ET, Wednesday, October 7, 2015
Venue: PNC Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Weather: Partly cloudy with a slight breeze blowing in from the northwest. Temperatures at first pitch are forecast to be in the mid-sixties with a 15 percent chance of precipitation.

Cubs
The Chicago Cubs (94-65) and Arrieta are the visiting favorite tonight at PNC in Pittsburgh. Not only is there valid evidence and history to validate the north-siders as the chalk in tonight’s NL Wild-Card clash, for the most part the majority of the nation’s public would like to see an end to the Chicago Cubs title drought. The last time that Cubby fans celebrated a World Series title was in 1907.

Cubs right-hander Arrieta was 12-1 with a 0.75 ERA in the second half of the season.  In his warm-up for the postseason start tonight, in his last three trips to the mound, he 29-year-old scattered six hits and walked one in 22 scoreless innings of work while striking out 27.

It has been 107 years since the Cubs won the Fall Classic and they enter tonight’s tilt with the perceived upper hand winning the 2015 season series against the Pirates, going 11-8 with a 5-4 record at Wrigley Field, and a 6-4 record at PNC Park.

Finishing the regular season just one game below the Pirates (98-64), the Cubs closed the season strong and came within one win of forcing the wild-card game to be played on the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field.  The Cubs pitching staff surrendered a total of just nine runs during an eight-game winning streak to end the regular season.

The Chicago lineup was pedestrian against Pittsburgh starter, Cole, this season with third baseman Kris Bryant (3-for-9), first baseman Anthony Rizzo (6-for-17) and second baseman Starlin Castro (6-for-17) having the most success at the plate.

Pirates
Cole is one of the likely runners-up to Arrieta in the soon to be Cy Young voting but he too finished the 2015 regular season with a flourish. The Pittsburgh right-hander won his final three starts allowing just six runs on 17 hits over 21 innings while striking out 19. The former No. 1 overall draft pick shutdown the Chicago lineup as recently as September 25 surrendering one run on four hits in a victory that ran his record to 7-1 with a 2.88 ERA in nine career starts versus the Cubs.  Chicago’s batting order is a free swinging troupe and Cole struck out 32 Cub batters in just under 26 innings this season.

Pittsburgh not only enjoys the comfortable confines of home in this Wild-Card matchup they have the experience of postseason play under their belt, especially when it comes to one-game sudden-death tilts. The Bucs are making their third straight appearance in the one-game series winning the 2013 affair The Pirates know what it takes to win in this win-or-go-home scenario and evidence of such was seen in their final series this season. Chicago took two-of-three from Cincinnati over the final weekend of the regular season to finish one-game in front of the Cubs ensuring tonight’s game would take place at PNC where they own a 53-28 record in 2015.

Outlook
The word in most media circles, and on the north-side of Chicago, is that Cubs Jake Arrieta is unbeatable.  Just east of Illinois you will hear differently. The Ohio natives and media suggest that Cole was just as good as Arrieta in the final month of the season and that the veteran presence for the Pirates will trump that of the Cubs. Cole registered four starts, 2-1 record, 25 1/3 innings, 20 hits, six earned runs (2.13 ERA), four walks and 32 strikeouts versus the Cubs lineup this past summer. Chicago’s young group hit a mere .225 against him.

The Pirates had the lowest bullpen earned run average (2.69) in the league this year while the Cubs had a 3.39 bullpen ERA.

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It is Fall Classic time again. First pitch of the Major League Baseball Playoffs start on Tuesday, October 6th, with a Wildcard contest between the Houston Astros and New York Yankees in the Bronx.

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