PITTSBURGH — The Pirates are sure making it interesting heading into the Wild Card game. They released their lineup this afternoon, which featured a lot of expected moves, and one unexpected move: Sean Rodriguez over Pedro Alvarez at first base.
As expected, the first question Clint Hurdle fielded today — no pun intended — was about the decision to start Rodriguez. After cracking a few jokes, and making a reference to how the entire season has played out, Hurdle said that they wanted the defense from Rodriguez at first base.
“Really it’s late baseball like this, fall baseball, it’s all about pitching and defense for me,” Hurdle said. “We’re putting our best pitcher on the mound, want to put our best defensive team behind him and find a way to scratch out one more run than the other team…I wanted to make sure we gave Gerrit every opportunity to have the best defensive metrics behind him.”
Looking at the defensive metrics, it’s clear to see that the Pirates went with their best defensive options at either corner, with Rodriguez providing a clear upgrade over Alvarez.
Based on recent trends, it’s not just defense that the Pirates are getting. Rodriguez has been strong offensively the final two months, as I pointed out on Twitter earlier.
Since August 1st:
Alvarez – .254/.342/.536
Rodriguez – .333/.385/.486
Alvarez – .239/.378/.522
Rodriguez – .310/.375/.586
— Tim Williams (@TimWilliamsPBN) October 7, 2015
Josh Harrison has also provided offense lately, hitting for a .326/.374/.446 line in 99 plate appearances since the start of September. Harrison met with the media today, and discussed the decision to go with Rodriguez.
“Pedro’s a big bat. We know at some point tonight he’s going to be ready to be called upon,” Harrison said. “But that’s what makes our team so good is we’ve got a guy like Sean coming in, and we’ve got full faith in him as well. He’s played really well off the bench. In my opinion, probably the toughest role on the bench for a guy like him, and he’s done a good job. Tonight we’re going to roll that lineup out and try to put as much pressure on as possible.”
With Harrison and Rodriguez at the corners, the Pirates have a lineup that has a lot of speed, and focuses on the best defensive option at every position. The interesting thing about this game is that the Cubs went with the exact opposite approach. In his media session, Joe Maddon discussed how their lineup was geared towards getting offense early, with the hope to score a few runs and switch over to better defenders later in the game.
Ultimately, the decision to start Rodriguez over Alvarez is probably going to mean one at-bat from Rodriguez in the first five innings against Jake Arrieta. If he gets more than that, then this probably means the Pirates have scored a run, which means you’re going to want to keep the Cubs scoring low. Otherwise, the Pirates are trading that one at-bat that Alvarez would have received, and they’re getting five innings of much stronger defense behind their best pitcher, who happens to have a strong ground ball tendency.
This game will be an interesting matchup, as it will feature two strong pitchers, and two opposite concepts against each other. One team is trying to support their pitcher with strong defense in order to keep the scoring low. One team is trying to load up on offense to try and get a run for their pitcher, while sacrificing defense. Considering the strong hitting lately from Harrison and Rodriguez, the Cubs might be sacrificing more to try and get their advantage.