PITTSBURGH — Last year the Pirates saw Madison Bumgarner shut them down in the Wild Card game. Ever since that point, Pirates fans have feared the Wild Card game, due to the possibility of facing another ace who can shut them down. In Bumgarner’s case, they faced a guy who went on to shut down a lot of other good teams, and lead the Giants to the World Series.
“I was glad everybody got what we got,” Clint Hurdle said about Bumgarner before today’s game. “Well, because we got shot down pretty quick, and everybody threw their hands up in the air and said, ‘Well, that’s it for the Pirates. That’s all they’ve got.’ Everybody got some of that. That was a lot. So I was glad everybody got it, truthfully, because that’s as good of pitching as I’ve seen done in quite some time, and everybody deserves to face the best, and everybody got to that was in the tournament.”
The Pirates are in another situation where they face a shut-down pitcher. Jake Arrieta has put up historic numbers in the second half this year, and looks like he could be another Bumgarner. But lost in all of the Arrieta hype is the fact that Gerrit Cole is a really good pitcher too.
“I like that nobody is talking about him,” Neil Walker said when asked what he likes about Cole tomorrow. “Let’s be honest. All we’ve heard all week is about their starter. We have a pretty good one of our own. Gerrit knows what he’s doing. He knows what makes him good. He knows what he’s going to try to do to their hitters. We feel very confident in his ability.”
All around the clubhouse, you’ll find players signing the praises of Cole, and warning not to overlook him with all the hype on Arrieta. But perhaps the best perspective comes from Michael Morse, who was on the Giants with Bumgarner last year, and who thinks that Gerrit Cole — not Jake Arrieta — could be this year’s version of Bumgarner.
“Madison last year was a workhorse at the end of the season, and then the playoffs he just turned it to another gear,” Morse said. “Kind of reminds me of Cole right now. Everybody is talking about Arrieta, but Cole has been a workhorse. In his last couple of starts he’s been better and better. I expect him to turn up another gear.”
Morse noted that Cole has “the mentality, the personality, and the drive” that could lead to a breakout. Travis Ishikawa was on the same Giants team, and agrees that Cole could be that breakout player.
“Obviously it would be to our advantage if that were to happen,” Ishikawa said. “He’s a bulldog out there. He’s a competitor. The guys like Bum, and what I can see with Cole, no matter what kind of stuff they have — their best stuff or they’re just not feeling it that day — they’re gonna go out and find a way to get outs and get the job done and give us a chance to win.”
This is a sentiment that has been expressed outside of the Pittsburgh clubhouse in previous weeks, most notably by Peter Gammons a little over a week ago.
Watching Gerritt Cole last week two very good scouts–both ex-pitchers–predicted Cole could be the Madison Bumgarner of the '15 playoffs
— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) September 25, 2015
In today’s media session, Jake Arrieta expressed confidence that he wouldn’t be thrown off by the atmosphere at PNC Park. If there is any concern that facing Arrieta will throw off Cole, it’s not coming from the Pirates’ clubhouse.
“I don’t think he cares about what other people think at all, truthfully,” Hurdle said of whether Cole would be impacted by all of the outside talk about Arrieta. “Hopefully he got that from me. The external noise that can come with this game sometimes, that’s really not necessary. He needs to believe in what he needs to believe in, in execution and getting the Cubs out.”
Hurdle pointed out that Cole has matched up with some really good pitchers from day one, pointing out that his first few starts in the majors were against Cy Young winners. He also pointed out that he’s not pitching against Arrieta, but pitching against the Cubs lineup, and that’s a team Cole has done well against.
“I think he’s kind of way past that type of deal on who is getting street cred or who is getting media coverage or who is getting all that,” Hurdle said. “I think he’s just looking forward to getting the ball.”
Cole did say he was looking forward to getting the ball, and was honored to be pitching in this big game.
“It’s a tremendous honor to be selected to pitch this game,” Cole said. “Obviously we all know the gravity of the situation. It’s one-and-done. There’s a lot of hard work that went into preparing for the season and preparing for this opportunity. I’m thankful and excited that I have it.”
As for whether he was impacted by the talk about Arrieta, Cole seems to favor this type of matchup.
“I feel like when you’re in these situations you want to face the best,” Cole said. “You want to get the best measure and best temperature of the other team because you really want to earn these wins. You work so hard to put yourself in position to have these opportunities, and it doesn’t feel any better than going up against the best. On the flip side, I think you can sit here and say he’s probably going to go pretty deep and he’s probably going to go pretty low. So you’re probably going to have to go pretty deep and you’re probably going to have to go pretty low too. So you know what you’re going to get.”
Obviously this is going to be a huge matchup on both sides, and as FanGraphs pointed out earlier today, it looks to be one of the best pitching matchups in playoff history.
— FanGraphs Baseball (@fangraphs) October 6, 2015
Obviously, the Pirates would love it if Cole ended up being this year’s version of Bumgarner, which would give them an edge against Arrieta.
Can the Pirates Be This Year’s Version of the Giants?
Going along with the “Can Cole be this year’s Bumgarner”, the next question would be, “Can the Pirates be this year’s version of the Giants?” I asked Morse and Ishikawa for their input on the subject, since they played with both teams. Morse said he noticed a huge similarity between both teams.
“It’s just the willingness to not give up,” Morse said. “Last year we knew that [Los Angeles] was a better team than us, and they had a better record, they won the division. But we still thought we had a good chance of beating them in the post-season. We think, once we get this game under our belt, that we have a good chance of beating St. Louis. It’s kind of the same kind of feel. Pretty much the same kind of team.”
Ishikawa said he noticed the similarities the day he arrived in Pittsburgh.
“It’s such a close-knit group of guys that play for each other and have one goal in common,” Ishikawa said about the team-first attitude. As for whether he noticed a difference between last year’s Pirates group and this year, Ishikawa noted that it was basically the same.
“It almost felt like I was just gone for an extended period of time,” Ishikawa said. “The day I got back, all of the guys I was with the Spring before welcomed me, and I fit right in. We just kind of kept going like nothing had ever happened.”
I wrote last night about how the Pirates have a good chance of winning it all this year. That focused on the on-field performance. But the other aspect is the clubhouse performance, and that’s an area where they’re very favorable. This has been a true team this year, putting aside individual performances and playing time for the good of the group. They seem relaxed and very open to helping their teammates. That’s the type of stuff that leads to the on-field performance of 98 wins, and it’s the type of stuff that could lead to a World Series.
Notes and Quotes
**Ishikawa on PNC Park’s atmosphere last year as a visitor: “Very loud. Probably one of the loudest I’ve ever heard a stadium in my career. I think that, mixed with my first start in the outfield, a lot of nerves. I wouldn’t say intimidating, but you definitely realize the presence here.”
**Andrew McCutchen was asked if he had a message for the crowd that would be at PNC Park tomorrow night: “They know what to do.”
**McCutchen also had a simple answer as to what separates Cole and Arrieta from most other pitchers: Location and velocity.
**Gerrit Cole was asked about Pedro Alvarez and his defensive struggles, and whether that impacts the game prep: “I think Pedro does a fine job over there, and I love having him in the lineup. He tends to hit a lot of home runs when I pitch.”
**Cole on his previous playoff experience in St. Louis: “I think I was more nervous for the second game of that series. I mean, you get into a situation where your back’s up against the wall and you don’t have any option but to go out swinging, so you might as well go for it. Treat it like any other game, and hopefully put yourself in a position to prepare for this opportunity, and I think I have.”
**Cole on home field advantage and the PNC Park atmosphere: “It can rattle some people. That’s no joke. I think we saw that a couple years ago. So it’s nice to have that competitive advantage with you, for sure.”
**No rosters or lineups were announced today, but Hurdle let a few plans become obvious. He mentioned they carried three catchers on the roster the previous two years, and would do the same this year, so expect Elias Diaz on the roster. It’s also pretty apparent that Josh Harrison will be starting, since he’s the only player in the press conference room tomorrow before the game, and Hurdle referenced him as their hottest hitter lately in today’s media session.