PITTSBURGH — The Wild Card game is about an hour away, and we’ve got live coverage from the event. Sean McCool and I will be covering things from the press box at PNC Park, while David Hague is down at the field level shooting photos. You can follow the action all night and comment on the game in this thread, and we will keep it updated with big events, thoughts, and analysis of everything that takes place.
If you missed it earlier, here was our preview of tonight’s game, looking at how the Pirates can beat Jake Arrieta and how Gerrit Cole can beat the Cubs lineup. The Pirates released their lineup with Sean Rodriguez at first base over Pedro Alvarez, and we broke down that decision here. You can also check out yesterday’s analysis here:
FanGraphs gave their odds, with the Pirates holding a slight edge, but with the game essentially being a coin flip.
Game Odds for the #WildCard:
— FanGraphs Baseball (@fangraphs) October 7, 2015
FanGraphs also broke down the home plate umpire tonight, Jeff Nelson, and his tendency calling balls and strikes. To quote their summary:
Overall, though, it’s the inside strike to lefties that stands out as his most notable trait. Given that the Cubs are likely to start five left-handed hitters tonight, they’re the ones who will have to be more likely to make some adjustments; especially because the Pirates pitch inside more than almost any other team in MLB. Nelson’s generous inside corner is likely a potential benefit for Gerrit Cole in going after guys like Dexter Fowler and Chris Coghlan, who tend to take a lot of borderline pitches, and might need to be more aggressive on the inner-half tonight.
Last night, Dallas Keuchel benefitted from a low strike zone. We’ll see if Gerrit Cole can do the same tonight. For the record, here are his tendencies against left-handed hitters this year:
Cole does like to hit that low, inside corner, and that could be a favorable spot tonight.
We’ll have more updates throughout the evening, as pre-game announcements begin and as more information comes out. – Tim Williams
UPDATE 7:22 PM: If, for some reason, you aren’t already pumped up for the game, then Benstonium has the video for you. – Tim Williams
UPDATE 7:36 PM: A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about how Gregory Polanco could be a key to beating Jake Arrieta. Daren Willman has an interesting note to add to Polanco playing an impact:
#Pirates Gregory Polanco has the two hardest hit balls against Jake Arrieta this year… Both 111 MPH on 4/20 and 9/16.
— Daren Willman (@darenw) October 7, 2015
The key focus of my article was that Polanco has shown a tendency to draw a lot of pitches out of a top of the rotation starter, including Arrieta. After I wrote that article, Polanco was the only player who recorded a hit off the Cubs’ ace. He’s batting leadoff tonight. – Tim Williams
UPDATE 7:44 PM: A lot of boos when Chris Couglan was introduced. Even more for Joe Maddon. But Jake Arrieta got the most. – Tim Williams
Just a few quick pre-game notes about Gerrit Cole going into this game…
In his last start against the Cubs on 9/25, Cole changed his breakdown of pitches thrown considerably, throwing 75.2% fastballs and only 5.5% curveballs, compared to 67.1% fastballs and 8% curveballs throughout the season. In that game, Cole went 7 IP, only allowing one earned run.
That changed considerably from his previous start against the Cubs, where he threw 61.9% fastballs and 13.3% curveballs. He went 6.1 IP, allowing three earned runs in that start. – Sean McCool
UPDATE 7:50 PM: I’ll have more player intros in a bit, but here is the start of the introductions. – Tim Williams
UPDATE 8:03 PM: Andrew McCutchen’s mother, Petrina McCutchen, may have single-handedly got this place rocking and ready with her rendition of the National Anthem. The Pirates were obviously trying to bring back all the feels from the 2013 Wild Card game. – Sean McCool
UPDATE 8:05 PM: Bob Walk, current Pirates broadcaster, went 82-61 with a 3.83 ERA from 1984-1993 for the Pirates. I don’t think he threw a strike for the first pitch, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. – Sean McCool
UPDATE 8:06 PM: Here are a few of the intros. – Tim Williams
UPDATE 8:11 PM: Gerrit Cole gave up a single to Dexter Fowler, who then stole second base. The throw was in time, but Josh Harrison couldn’t come up with the catch and tag. Fowler then came around to score on a single by Kyle Scwarber. The Cubs take a 1-0 lead. – Tim Williams
CUBS 1, PIRATES 0
UPDATE 8:17 PM: Joe Maddon said that he started Schwarber in right field with a focus on offense, rather than defense. It paid off in the second at-bat of the game. We’ll see how the plan goes defensively, as the current Cubs outfield features Schwarber and Bryant at the corners. Cole followed the RBI single with a grounder to third, generating a 5-4-3 double play to clear the bases. He then got a grounder by Rizzo into the shift, but Walker’s throw from the outfield was in the dirt and Sean Rodriguez couldn’t come up with it. Walker was charged with an error. Cole then struck out La Stella to end the inning. Hopefully this is a sign that Cole is getting back on track after a rough start. – Tim Williams
UPDATE 8:24 PM: Gerrit Cole has Starling Marte to thank for the score not being 2-0, as he got to Schwarber’s hit very quickly and held him to a single rather than a double. Against most other left fielders, that is easily a double, and he would’ve came around to score on the error. – Sean McCool
UPDATE 8:29 PM: Andrew McCutchen got the lone hit of the bottom of the first, with a 103 MPH single up the middle. Arrieta struggles vs the run game, but that doesn’t matter much with McCutchen on the bases. His stolen base attempts have steadily declined the last two years, reaching an all-time low this year.
2010 – 43
2011 – 33
2012 – 32
2013 – 37
2014 – 21
2015 – 16
It didn’t matter, as Starling Marte struck out to end the inning. Arrieta needed just 14 pitches in the first, with three balls. – Tim Williams
UPDATE 8:35 PM: A much better inning from Cole there, highlighted by a short chopper from Starlin Castro that featured Cole covering a lot of ground, grabbing the ball up in the air near the third base line, then turning and firing a perfect strike to a fully extended Sean Rodriguez to barely get the runner. Cole needed just 12 pitches to get through the inning in order. – Tim Williams
UPDATE 8:44 PM: Arrieta puts the Pirates down in order in the second. One of those was a strikeout against Neil Walker. He swung at pitches two and four in the chart below, which wasn’t the best pitch selection, although it could be chalked up to how difficult Arrieta is to hit and how nasty his stuff is. – Tim Williams
Cervelli and Walker both called timeout very late once in their at-bats, seemingly to try to throw Arrieta out of his rhythm. It didn’t work either time, but I think that they need to continue to try to do anything to get Arrieta off of his game. He hasn’t necessarily hit all of his spots so far, and the Pirates may need to do anything they possibly can to look for a miss anywhere near the middle of the plate. – Sean McCool
UPDATE 8:51 PM: Shades of the first inning here in the third, as Dexter Fowler gets a one out single off Cole, and Kyle Schwarber blasts a two run homer to make it 3-0 Cubs. In each case, Cole got behind in the count early, going 2-1 to each hitter before giving up a hit. It looks like Joe Maddon’s approach of going for offense early has worked so far. – Tim Williams
Cubs 3, Pirates 0
UPDATE 8:53 PM: Arrieta has thrown a first pitch strike against six of the seven batters he has faced. Pirates may need to start taking a look at swinging first pitch more often as the game continues. – Sean McCool
On that same note, I’ll link to Ed Giles’ article from earlier this week, looking at how the Pirates have been aggressive all season swinging at the first pitch. They could use the numbers in that article tonight. – Tim Williams
UPDATE 8:58 PM: Pedro Alvarez is in the game, pinch hitting for Sean Rodriguez. Pirates making the switch to go for offense, and they need it. To recap, they traded zero at-bats for three innings of defense. I wonder if Hurdle intended to make the switch this early? – Tim Williams
UPDATE 9:00 PM: And Pedro strikes out on five pitches, swinging at all three strikes, with none in the strike zone. – Tim Williams
UPDATE 9:08 PM: There have been complaints about the umpire calling a large strike zone for Arrieta, but going through Gameday, I haven’t seen it. There are maybe 2-3 calls that were on the edge, and most of them are high strikes to right-handers, which matches up for this umpire’s trends. I haven’t noticed Cole getting called much different. In fact, I’ve noticed a few strikes that he got that were the same borderline calls high in the zone. While it would be nice to chalk this up to the umpire calling a bad strike zone, I think it can just be chalked up to Arrieta hitting his spots, and Cole missing his. We’re currently going to the bottom of the 4th with the Pirates down 3-0. – Tim Williams
UPDATE 9:17 PM: Through four innings, Cole has thrown a first pitch strike to 10 out of 17 batters he faced. He has only been able to retire a batter in three pitches or less a total of five times through four innings. Of course, the Pirates utilize this metric heavily, and 5-out-of-17 is not quite the ratio they are looking for. – Sean McCool
UPDATE 9:21 PM: Just to follow up on the umpire calling the same game, here are two images from the 4th inning with the first pitch being called a strike, once for each pitcher.
It’s also worth noting that this all comes down to perspective. I’ve noticed the TBS strike zone is smaller than the MLB Gameday strike zone, which means pitches on the edge in these images are probably appearing further outside. And the new Gameday has these pitches even closer inside the zone. This is only one example, but it’s been like this all throughout the game, with both sides getting the same calls. The umpire is calling that outside strike to right-handers, and up at the top of the zone to right-handers.
Gerrit Cole gives up a solo homer in the fifth inning to Dexter Fowler — who else? — and it’s now 4-0. Heading to the bottom of the 5th. – Tim Williams
Cubs 4, Pirates 0
UPDATE 9:30 PM: Dexter Fowler & Kyle Schwarber are 5-for-6 with 2 home runs and 4 RBIs against Gerrit Cole. The rest of the Cubs are 1-for-14. – Sean McCool
UPDATE 9:41 PM: Further analysis of the strike zone. Jordy Mercer and Pedro Alvarez called out on pitches way outside on the TBS strike zone. Here were the Gameday locations.
My summary is that the TBS strike zone is probably not accurate. The umpire is giving benefit of doubt on edges to both sides. Arrieta is hitting them. Cole isn’t. – Tim Williams
UPDATE 9:53 PM: Travis Snider led off the sixth with a 101 MPH single up the middle. Gregory Polanco followed with some tough luck, blasting a 107 MPH liner right into Kris Bryant’s glove. Josh Harrison was hit with a pitch as Arrieta continued losing control. After a 2-0 count, McCutchen grounded up the middle and the shortstop couldn’t come up with it, loading the bases. Arrieta’s first pitch to Marte was bounced a foot in front of the plate. This crowd got loud, but Arrieta got Marte to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to end the frame. It’s hard to imagine the Pirates will get a better opportunity than that. – Tim Williams
UPDATE 9:58 PM: A summary of the type of night it’s been for the Pirates: Polanco’s line out was 107 MPH. Marte’s double play was 109 MPH. Those were the two hardest hit balls off Arrieta tonight, and they led to the only three outs that inning. Really tough break for the Pirates that they both were hit to fielders. – Tim Williams
UPDATE 10:01 PM: Gregory Polanco’s line drive out had an exit speed of 107 MPH. You simply cannot underestimate the magnitude of the “look-what-I-found” play that Bryant made on Polanco there. – Sean McCool
UPDATE 10:02 PM: Crazy stat that inning:
Jake Arrieta only allowed 12 balls hit 107 MPH+ all season… That was 3 in a row by the #Pirates.
— Daren Willman (@darenw) October 8, 2015
Jake Arrieta just got plunked by Tony Watson with the first pitch and the benches clear. Crowd going nuts. Tony Watson just became a Pittsburgh legend. – Tim Williams
UPDATE 10:09 PM: Arrieta stole second uncontested on Watson’s first pitch. He must have read my analysis about how the Pirates don’t really care about the running game with two outs. Watson gets the third out when Polanco ranges far for a catch. – Tim Williams
All four balls that the Pirates put into play last inning had an exit velocity over 100 MPH, including both ground balls by McCutchen and Marte. Arrieta may have escaped the inning, but you have to wonder if the Pirates have found a way to attack him, coupled with some loss of command. They’ll have three more attempts for us to find out… – Sean McCool
UPDATE 10:14 PM: Sean Rodriguez was ejected from the game during the brawl. His reaction:
The only thing Sean Rodriguez is missing here is the up-down, up-down to begin and the B, A, start to finish. https://t.co/kgYYNERxye
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 8, 2015
Meanwhile, Arrieta gave up a single to Cervelli to start the seventh, and has had shaky control to Neil Walker, going 2-1 and prompting a visit to the mound. It might have been a mistake to bring him back out after he was getting hit hard last inning. He battled back and struck out Walker after the mound visit. Aramis Ramirez now pinch hitting for Jordy Mercer. – Tim Williams
UPDATE 10:19 PM: Aramis Ramirez grounds into a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning. 93 MPH exit velocity. He stays in at third, with Josh Harrison moving to shortstop and Joakim Soria coming on to pitch. That may have been the final at-bat of Ramirez’s career. – Tim Williams
UPDATE 10:24 PM: The attendance is 40,889, which is the largest crowd to see a baseball game at PNC Park. – Tim Williams
UPDATE 10:32 PM: The bullpen has done an excellent job tonight. Three shutout innings from Bastardo, Watson, and Soria. Six strikeouts, one walk, no hits. Heading to the bottom of the 8th with the score still 4-0 Cubs. – Tim Williams
UPDATE 10:39 PM: Summary of the night for Cole:
UPDATE 10:50 PM: The top of the ninth ends when Starling Marte throws out Addison Russell at second base. You don’t run on Marte. While we’re on the subject, here’s my article from last week on what makes Marte and Polanco so good at throwing out runners. Probably my last chance to tweet it out this year. I really liked that one. – Tim Williams
UPDATE 11:01 PM: Cubs win 4-0. The Pirates had an amazing 98 win season that was ended with a disappointing one game playoff in a system that probably needs to change this off-season. Sean and I will have more analysis later after getting interviews in the clubhouse. For now, here is a very rough concept of the 2016 Prospect Guide cover. It’s NOT the final cover at all, but it’s something I feel Pirates fans need right now.
Thanks for a great season, everyone! We’ll have plenty of analysis from this game later. – Tim Williams