CHICAGO — Tonight the Pirates will get a big test when they take on Jake Arrieta and the Cubs in what could be a preview of the Wild Card game. This will be the second time they’ve faced Arrieta recently, with the other time being on September 16th, when Arrieta went eight innings against them.
If the two teams meet in the Wild Card game, this will mean that the Pirates will play Arrieta three times in the span of a little over three weeks. As David Todd has been noting the last few days, this could potentially be unwise for the Cubs to start their ace tonight, as it could give the Pirates an advantage in the Wild Card game.
I seriously need someone to explain to me how it makes sense for the Cubs to pitch Arrieta tonight against the #Pirates 3x in 3 weeks?
— David Todd (@DTonPirates) September 27, 2015
I asked Clint Hurdle before the game today whether it could provide the team an advantage. His response was a bit mixed.
“I think it can,” Hurdle said. “And there’s also been some games where I faced some pitchers, I didn’t want to see them again for a long time. Truthfully. That again is the beauty of sports. You’re going to see arm slot, angle, the repetition. You should walk away with a better feel of picking the ball up out of his hand. The location of his pitches, the crispness of his pitches. If he spots up, throws that cutter, fastball, all of that other stuff he’s been doing for most of the season, it’s a hard night at the office.”
Hurdle also made sure to point out that the Pirates could be playing the Cubs, and not just Arrieta. And as I noted on Friday, he said they could benefit by having someone to match his performance and neutralize the production the Cubs would receive.
“It’s not so much about beating him. I think that’s where we lose context,” Hurdle said. “You’re out to beat the Cubs. So we need a guy who can step up and pitch well. [Arrieta] can pitch well. Neither one of them could even factor into the decision at the end of the night. Could [seeing Arrieta three times] help play out? I think it could for some guys, as far as the repetition, the close proximity of seeing pitches and spin. But the ultimate part is where he locates it, where that ball ends up.”
On that last point, Hurdle mentioned many times today that nothing is certain in this game, and that the unexpected nature of the game is why you write the stories after the game. He noted that Arrieta does have some losses tied to his record, and that there will be some opportunity against him.
“One thing I can tell them is there are going to be tipping points in the game,” Hurdle said. “Tipping points are there for you to take advantage of. Now whether you take advantage of them or not, that’s where the preparation, the focus of playing the game [comes into play].”
Hurdle said it could just come down to one missed location and one guy putting an elite swing on the pitch. We saw that exact situation play out with Johnny Cueto in the 2013 Wild Card game.
The reality here is that there probably are some advantages for the Pirates seeing Arrieta multiple times in a short span. But on the flip side of that, Arrieta is such a good pitcher, and even if you’re more familiar with his stuff, the advantage only goes so far.
Seeing him multiple times hasn’t worked for a lot of teams recently. The Giants were shutout over 7.2 innings on August 9th, then faced him August 25th and only managed one unearned run in six innings. The Braves followed up seven shutout innings on July 19th with six shutout innings on August 20th.
There have been a few moderate success stories. The Cardinals faced him on June 26th and scored one run in seven innings, then followed that with two runs in 6.2 innings on July 7th. The White Sox scored one run in nine innings on July 12th, then managed three runs, two earned, in 6.2 innings on August 15th. That was also the only start since the beginning of August where Arrieta has given up more than one earned run, and only one of four starts in that span where he gave up an earned run at all.
We might get a better idea tonight whether seeing Arrieta multiple times will help the Pirates at all. And since they have the rare opportunity to see him three times in a short span, it could give them an even bigger advantage than the White Sox or Cardinals got this year.
As for the lineup, it certainly appears the Pirates are using what will likely be their Wild Card game lineup tonight (minus Gerrit Cole on the mound). So if there is an advantage to be had, then they seem to be going for it.
— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) September 27, 2015