Pirates Prepare For Another PNC Blackout After Today’s Victory

PITTSBURGH — The Pirates came into today’s game needing either a win or a Cubs loss in order to clinch home field advantage in the Wild Card game on Wednesday. MLB set up the schedule this year so that all games would start at the same time, which meant the Pirates and Cubs would be playing at the same time, giving neither team an advantage in knowing what they needed to do. This led to some scoreboard watching, but also led to the Pirates knowing that they could just lock things up with a win.

“I did look up there a couple of times,” Andrew McCutchen said about watching the scoreboard. “It didn’t surprise me that they were winning and ended up winning. But we know we needed to take care of business and just win the ballgame.”

The Cubs got a quick 3-0 lead in the first inning of their game, which was the start of them going on to win their eighth game in a row. The Pirates suddenly needed a big performance to avoid going to Chicago to face Jake Arrieta. They got that big performance from J.A. Happ, who has been their best pitcher statistically since the trade deadline.

Happ went six shutout innings, giving up three hits, three walks, and striking out seven. That wraps up an impressive regular season campaign with the Pirates, where he posted a 1.37 ERA and a 2.91 xFIP in 59 innings over his final ten starts, with a 63:11 K/BB ratio. Those are some amazing numbers, but even more impressive was that he did it today without his best stuff.

“The execution today — he really had no breaking ball,” Clint Hurdle said of the outing. “He went to the fastball, he went to the cutter. That stroke to the gloveside played. The changeup played to keep them off the fastball. Very efficient outing again.”

Happ said that he had a few good changeups against right-handers today, which definitely helped.

“I missed a few times over the plate, got away with a few today,” Happ said. “For the most part, I feel pretty good about it.”

Meanwhile, the Pirates slowly built a lead against the Reds. They got on the board in the first inning after a double from Josh Harrison and a single from Neil Walker. Pedro Alvarez crushed a solo homer to lead off the fourth inning to give them a 2-0 lead.

They got some defense in the sixth inning when Starling Marte threw out Brandon Phillips at second. Phillips hit a two-out single, and tried stretching it to a double. Marte had a different idea, and threw out Phillips, with a nice dive from Neil Walker to make the tag.

“There wasn’t a save in this game, but it very well could have been the play Marte made in left-field, throwing out Phillips,” Hurdle said. “Walker diving and making the tag. Big play in the ballgame.”

As a side note, if you missed it yesterday, check out my article on what makes Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco so good at throwing out runners.

Happ was pulled in the bottom of the sixth inning for a pinch hitter after Francisco Cervelli and Jordy Mercer hit back to back doubles to bring in a third run. Another pair of back to back doubles in the seventh made it 4-0, which ended up being the final score.

The big credit here goes to Happ, who came up big in a game where the Pirates really needed him.

“It feels good,” Happ said. “It feels good to come up for the guys in this game. We’d be excited to play, no matter where we’re playing, but I think we are happy it’s going to be here.”

Josh Harrison Stepping Up

Coming into today’s game, Josh Harrison had been on a hot streak. Since Jung-ho Kang went down, Harrison had a .340/.380/.489 line in 50 plate appearances. He went 3-for-4 with two doubles in today’s game. I wrote last week about how Jordy Mercer has stepped up in a big way with Kang out, and Harrison can be added to that list.

“That’s been one of the characteristics of our club and our organization the last three years,” Hurdle said. “When guys have gone down, men have moved in the opportunities that were given to them. Whether it’s on the defensive side of the ball, the offensive side of the ball…It’s obviously helped with Mercer and Harrison swinging the bats. Connect the dots in the lineup better. Lengthen the lineup out. It just makes us a better team.”

The strong performance from Harrison is coming at a great time, as the Pirates will need plenty of offense heading into the Wild Card game.

“We’ve seen it before,” Hurdle said of this offense from Harrison. “You watched a lot of it last year. When he gets comfortable, and gets that confidence flowing in that box, he can do a lot of things with that barrel. He can move the ball around, he can hit hard, he can hit soft. Another guy that’s finishing very strong.”

As to the reason for the success, Harrison credits it to coming back from his injury, which isn’t an easy path.

“Rehab games, it’s not the big leagues,” Harrison said. “You can do whatever you want down there, but you’re not facing a Madison Bumgarner or a Gerrit Cole or those type of arms down there. You may be seeing pitches and getting some game flow, but it’s completely different adrenalin. When you come back, it takes some adjusting.”

It will be interesting to see whether the Pirates stick with Harrison against Arrieta or go with Aramis Ramirez on Wednesday.

#PNCBlackout

After the game, Josh Harrison announced to the crowd at PNC Park that there would be a blackout at PNC for the Wild Card game for the third year in a row. The last two years have seen an incredible atmosphere, and some of the new players are already looking forward to experiencing it first hand.

“I remember last year, it was the only game I watched in the post-season,” Francisco Cervelli said. “I was on vacation, and the TV was showing [the game]. That was unbelievable. They were showing the noise on TV. I can’t wait to see it.”

Happ said that the intensity and atmosphere should be there, and looks forward to his first playoff experience since his time with the Phillies.

“I’ve been waiting to get back to playoff baseball for several years now,” Happ said. “So, on a personal note, I’m just really excited to watch it happen. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, in any other dugout. I’m anxious to watch our guys play.”

Clint Hurdle said that the win today makes things a little bit more seamless for the team, since they get to stay in Pittsburgh.

“We love playing at home,” Hurdle said. “Our guys love pitching at home. It’s going to be an opportunity to be a really good ballgame. I love it when our fans show up. They should be loud, and they should be proud. Our men will go up there and play. We are looking forward to the opportunity. We’ve earned it.”

As for whether the new guys are being prepped for the atmosphere, don’t count on any spoilers from Josh Harrison.

“I really don’t like spoiling it for people. I want them to experience it for themselves,” Harrison said, when asked if he’s told anyone what to expect.

Notes and Quotes

**Clint Hurdle on the season: “I’m proud of our team regardless of anything else that has gone on. We won 98 ballgames. We’ve got a home field game in the Wild Card. Everybody in that clubhouse contributed something throughout the course of the season to get us to this point, and we’ll look forward to the next step.”

**Francisco Cervelli on Happ: “He’s unbelievable. He’s tough…this guy has been a been help for us.”

**Andrew McCutchen on whether he’s noticed being pitched differently since Jung-ho Kang went down: “I don’t notice how they’re pitching me. I’m just focused on hitting my pitch. That’s what it’s all about. Getting my pitch and hitting it. If I don’t get it, I’ll take my walk.”

**Hurdle on what has made Happ so good lately: “I think it was some early tweaks in his delivery. I think his own mindset helped. An opportunity to start fresh and new. It’s not something he didn’t have before. So he was able to reacquire it. Reconnect the dots in the delivery. And just been pitching with so much conviction and focus.”

**Happ ultimately deferred to later when asked about a potential free agent signing with the Pirates, but did offer this: “Of course it’s something I would absolutely consider. I have nothing bad to say about my time here. In fact, it’s all the opposite. Everything has been great.”

TwitterPNCBlackout

  • Jake wears Khakis!

  • Jake wears Kkakis

  • I’ve been trying to find some vids on Arrieta giving up XBH. He does, obviously, but not necessarily by pounding the ball in the zone. Pull hitters can take advantage of him coming inside off the plate – if the plan is to hit what’s hittable and not take. So someone like Harrison or Cutch should see pitches they can pull down the line. Likewise, as with Melancon, going oppo is a valid strategy. Unfortunately, Bucs regulars aren’t too good at that, other than Harrison and maybe Cervelli.

    Pedro does have the only Bucs HR off Jake. And the 2nd best OPS after Cutch, even though it’s barely over .500. I start him at 1b and Harrison at 3b. I’m not liking Morse taking a lot of pitches here, nor has ARam shown anything vs Jake – but he’d be really useful once Wood comes in for relief.

  • We do have this going for us…
    Maddon post-season: 13-17.
    Hurdle post-season: 10-8.

    If Bucs can’t get to Arrieta early, if Cole can keep it even through 6-7 innings, I like our chances. Bullpen + bench favors Bucs.

  • “Crushed” does not do justice to what Pedro Alvarez did to that baseball. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him hit one harder, and with Pedro, that’s saying something.

    • I really get the feeling this Wild Card game will come down to a home run, by either club.

      Neither Arrieta nor Cole allow many baserunners, whether by walk or hit. They don’t allow many home runs either, since they’re pretty good pitchers and all, but I feel like they’re both more likely to get hurt on one mistake than string together three or four needed to really start a multi-run rally.

      If either club can hang three runs on a starter, I think they’ll win the game, and the best chance either has of doing that is with the long ball.

      • Which is an argument for Pedro to start, as well as Walker, but Arrieta also has reverse platoon splits, so many Harrison and Morse would give us a better chance at string hits together. Either way, I do not envy Hurdle in his effort to give the Bucs the best chance to win.

        • That’s been my argument for Alvarez/Walker. I don’t really buy the reverse platoon thing as being accurate; he showed no split last year, and the observable split this year is really, really tiny. More so, I can’t fathom how being a righty and having the ball come out of his hand practically behind your back helps at all.

          • At the same time, Harrison is on fire right now and has a flair for the dramatic, so which power threat do we pull in favor of him, Ramirez or Walker? Walker’s probably the better hitter, but Ramirez is easier to hide defensively. Or do we sit Harrison despite his hot streak and recent track record?

            Of course, running Arrieta to death is the only option other than relying on the long ball I can think of, and Harrison gives us a better shot of doing that, too.

            As for the splits, were I to try to explain the result, I’d assume it’s because his cutter is maybe his best pitch, and that’s a more effective pitch, generally, to opposite-handed batters. That said, telling our lefties to stay inside and really focus on pulling the ball might be a good move.

            • Well, I’ve been the one saying that if Josh Harrison is half the player they extended less than a year ago it’s an embarrassment to be benched for Aramis Ramirez, so I think you know where I stand. I’d be running on Arrieta, if for no other reason than to offer the hitter the slightest bit of a distraction.

              Very much agree with you on the cutter vs. LHP, generally speaking. Just found it odd that the split all the sudden showed up this year (I’m sure I could find some data on pitch usage, which would help).

              I had the same thought as you re: lefties focusing on pulling inside pitches, but the charts actually show Arrieta pitching Alvarez, Walker, and especially Polanco away in the zone. I would’ve guess opposite.

              • It makes sense as a strategy, but I could see a strategy of having the righties being aggressive early in the count and the lefties just waiting for that cutter inside working pretty well. Gives us three guys, including the leadoff hitter, working on the pitch count and taking a Votto-esque approach of only swinging at a pitch they think they can drive, and everyone else just going after the first pitch they can hit so they avoid as many two-strike counts as possible might be the optimal compromise strategically, of course with allotments for what the players are most comfortable doing.

                We can suffer Pedro striking out looking (I know, everyone will hate it) if Arrieta just stays away on him, avoiding the ground out/double play ball, and sitting on the pitch he most thinks he can obliterate for that game-breaking home run, in particular. Walker and Polanco have more on-base responsibility, but at the very least telling Pedro to only swing at pitches in his wheelhouse might work out well.

                • Basically the reason I think having a guy like Alvarez in the bottom of a lineup can provide more impact than what “the numbers” say.

                  I certainly haven’t done the math, but I would wager at least a few beverages on a low OBP-high power guy producing more actual runs than the opposite profile in the 6-7-8 spot. Context *does* matter, and I just don’t see how a guy like Ike Davis who did everything he could NOT to swing the bat actually leads to more runs when hitting in front of the two weakest spots in the lineup.

      • The forecast calls for moderate northwest breeze(straight out to centerfield).
        I also believe a home run will be pivotal in this game. Hoping Cole has good movement on his fast ball Wednesday and keeps the Cubs off balance, as he tends to pitch to contact and allow more fly balls than Arrieta.

        • Great call on Cole. He’s certainly done a lot to shed the reputation of being too hittable for a guy with his stuff, but for an ace, he’s still at the upper end of that realm. When his stuff is flat and catches the plate, he gets hit. Delivery is too clean to really generate any sort of deception, for better or worse.

      • In Arrietta’s last 12 starts, he has given up ZERO earned runs in 9 of them. Only once since mid-June did he give up as many as three ER’s. Chance of the Bucs hanging three runs on him is extremely low.

        • Which is exactly my point. Those chances *are* extremely low; guy’s pretty good at baseball, we get it.

          The question is how do you put yourself in the best position to get there? I think it is by capitalizing on one mistake rather than trying to string a bunch of positive events together.

  • Got my tix for the blackout, let’s go Bucs!

  • I’m assuming we beat cubs. Happ will need his curveball and can’t leave any over pale with cardss in next meeting.

  • Patience, make Arrieta work and throw pitches. Many pitch starting eye level below waist will end up as a ball. Bunt, bunt, bunt. This gets a run or two and gets Arrieta out of the game at six.

    • Arrieta walks 1.89 hitters per 9 innings. So no, his stuff really doesnt end up as a ball all that often. He’ll get ahead and work with his plus offspeed stuff if you let him. Arrieta really isnt a guy you can just assume you can take a ton of pitches and be effective. It’ll easily end up with you seeing 2 strike counts all night and him leaving after 7 innings with little offense against him.

      • Could not agree more. Taking pitches in order to make Arrieta work would be disastrous.

        Remember, folks were saying the same exact thing last year leading up to the Wild Card game against Madison Bumgarner. Like Bumgarner, Arrieta pounds the strikezone to get ahead of hitters, and then becomes essentially unhittable with the count in his favor.

        Arrieta will have ten K’s before the end of the 6th if the Pirates go up there trying to push his pitch count. Simply too good.

        • The “best case” of a strategy like that is to almost literally punt the first 6 innings and hope his 10+ Ks mean he’s at 100+ pitches through 6 and you get a few innings of bullpen.

          And that, my friends, is a bad plan.

          • Except that Maddon has pushed him to 120 pitches in the regular season, let alone the playoffs, which means he’s likely into the 8th before sniffing the bullpen.

            Yeah, can’t imagine that one working out well for the home team.

  • From a different perspective, Cubs only open as a -115 favorite. interesting line given the best pitcher in the game right now is throwing, pretty cheap price.
    how many people will make that bet? A chance to bet Arietta at pretty much even money? Lots!
    Also, the underdog Pirates 10-1 to win it all…..favorite Cubs 12-1

    I really like the Bucs chances in this one and it looks like Vegas does as all.

    • Yeah, interesting line and interesting set up by Vegas. I think Vegas sees the Pirates as a better team to advance further IF they can get through the WC game. I don’t think -115 is a push though, especially at home. The Cubs are clearly the favorites, even if slight favorites.

      • he was -140 in Sept at Pitt
        -130 in August at Pitt
        -110 in April at Pitt

        Line doesn’t support his trend.

        • Those starts probably weren’t against gerrit Cole. I believe all were against Burnett

        • Yeah its not purely just Arrieta. You look at the CHC offense on the road and thats a negative for them (compared to at Wrigley). Nearly all teams play better at home vs on the road, and you have Cole.

          So while Arrieta gives them an edge, its likely no more than a 55/45 type split than a major one.

  • Tim, do you think Happ has earned at the very least a qualifying offer from the Pirates? Now that the regular season is over, the numbers Happ put up this year are very comparable to the numbers Edison Volquez put up last season. I believe Volquez had a 13-7 W-L record with 192.2 inning pitched, 71 BB’s, 140 K’s, 3.04 ERA, 2.5 WAR. Happ had a combined 11-8 W-L record (7-2 with Pirates), 172 innings pitched (63.1 innings with Pirates), 45 BB’s (13 BB’s with Pirates), 151 K’s (69 with Pirates), 3.61 ERA (1.85 ERA with Pirates) and at the very least a combined WAR of 2.7 (with at least a 2.1 of that coming from his time with the Pirates). ESPN and Baseball-reference.com have yet to update all statistics from today’s games which leaves some mystery as to his combined WAR and his WAR from his time with the Pirates this year.

    • there is absolutely no point in offering him a QO- since we can’t get a draft pick for him if he signs elsewhere, but there is no world where he’s worth that much even for one year even if we could get something for him leaving. I hope we get him back, but I would bathe in lemon pudding if we did that

    • Yes, the Bucs cannot get a draft pick if he signs elsewhere. And definitely yes, he does not warrant anything close to that kind of offer. This year’s QO will be over $16 Million for one year.

      Happ turns 33 in a couple of weeks btw. After seven years in the majors – and a number of arbitration processes – his salary still is only up to $6.7 Million.

      • Maybe a deal similar to what Volquez got from KC is the max Happ can expect at his age and with a less than exciting career track record.

    • I don’t think they can make a QO, since he was acquired mid-season. And if they can, it would be pointless, since they definitely can’t get compensation if he leaves, due to the mid-season addition.

  • Couple of things:
    1) we are already underdogs, which may be a good thing for us
    2) Arrieta is extremely confident, maybe even over-confident
    3) has JayHay hit his way into the lineup for the WC game? JayHay at 3B and Aram at 1B?

  • I hope every expert picks the Cubbies to win. Fuel that Buc fire!

  • Pay da man!

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