I wrote about Jake Arrieta a lot over the weekend while I was in Chicago. I talked about what a difficult pitcher he has been this year. I discussed the difficult challenge that the Pirates will face when they go up against him in the Wild Card game — which is now official after the Cardinals clinched the post-season.
There is one thing I’ve never said: Jake Arrieta can’t be beaten.
In fact, I wrote two different articles discussing keys to beating the best pitcher in baseball. One of them involved Gregory Polanco — the lone player to get a hit off the Cubs right-hander on Sunday. The other article involved the Pirates countering Arrieta with an ace of their own, and that ace is Gerrit Cole.
We saw Cole in action earlier today, keeping the slim hopes of the division alive for a brief time, before the Cardinals clinched things in game two. We saw Cole in action against the Cubs last Friday, shutting them down in a way you’d want to see him pitch in the Wild Card game. As Clint Hurdle mentioned over the weekend, the Pirates don’t need to beat Arrieta — they need to beat the Cubs. And as I wrote on Friday, Gerrit Cole is going to play a huge role here.
In four starts against the Cubs, Cole has a 2.13 ERA in 25.1 innings of work, with a 32:4 K/BB ratio. Granted, Arrieta has been better on the surface, with an 0.75 ERA in 36 innings, with a 33:5 K/BB ratio. However, digging deeper the two pitchers are evenly matched against their respective Wild Card opponents. Cole has a 3.01 xFIP against the Cubs, while Arrieta has a 3.07 xFIP against the Pirates.
Going beyond Cole, we’ve written about how the Pirates have the best shutdown relief duo in Mark Melancon and Tony Watson. If Cole can make it through seven innings against the Cubs, then he can hand the ball off to those two in order to carry the next two innings. If he can only go six innings, then a combination of relievers could do the trick in the seventh, with Antonio Bastardo, Jared Hughes, and Joakim Soria all available for different roles. Joe Blanton would give the team a good long relief option, and if they clinch home field before Sunday’s game, they could hold J.A. Happ back as an emergency option if they need more innings.
The Pirates will be going up against some difficult pitching, but they’ll be countering with some equally difficult pitching. Cole has managed to do well against the Cubs, and one more strong outing will be enough to counter Arrieta. The Pirates have a bullpen that should continue keeping the Cubs shut down. This means that even if the Cubs ace shuts down the Pirates’ offense, the pitching staff should have enough to counter until the offense finally manages a run or two.
It’s not going to be an easy game, and there are no guarantees that the Pirates will win. At the same time, there are no guarantees that the Cubs will win, even with Arrieta. The Pirates have a difficult game next week, but Gerrit Cole gives them a chance.
Now they just need to secure home field advantage, which will come from any combination of two Pirates wins or Cubs losses over the next four days. Win the series against Cincinnati and secure a third straight Wild Card game at PNC Park.
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