PITTSBURGH — Dexter Fowler came into this game going 3-for-14, all singles, against Gerrit Cole in his career.

Kyle Schwarber went 1-for-5, a single, against Gerrit Cole in his only season.

There were plenty of other guys on the Cubs roster that you would’ve expected to get to Cole — Starlin Castro (6-for-17 this year), Anthony Rizzo (6-for-17), or Kris Bryant (3-for-9) to name a few — but it was the veteran center fielder and the “other rookie” that doomed Cole tonight.

Wild Card - Cole Line

The narrative of tonight’s contest has to be Jake Arrieta, and he is very well deserving of that recognition. However, Gerrit Cole’s inability to get on the other side of the first two batters of the Cubs lineup sunk the Pirates early and often.

In the first at-bat of the game, Cole fell behind Fowler, and he singled a 3-1 pitch to center field. Andrew McCutchen was playing deep, and he was not able to get to the line drive in time.

After a Fowler steal, Schwarber drove an elevated 2-2 fastball down the left field line, scoring Fowler. Just like that, the Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the first inning. One had to think that may be all Arrieta needed, and that turned out to be the case.

In the third inning, Fowler singled on a line drive to right field. Cole then fell behind to Schwarber, and he destroyed a 2-1 slider down the middle of the plate over the right field bleachers.

“It got down towards the bottom of the zone,” Cole said, “but it wasn’t breaking much. It was just a little spinner down there.”

In the fifth, Dexter Fowler took a 2-2 fastball over the right center wall.

“I challenged him with fastballs,” an emotional Gerrit Cole said at his locker. “I tried to get that ball more so on the outer part of the plate, but I was looking at the top of the zone and trying to attack it. He put a good swing on it.”

Cole struggled to find a rhythm all throughout the game; however, it was only the two batters at the top of the Cubs order able to take advantage.

“I couldn’t find that rhythm and consistency to be able sequence and make the pitches I needed. You fall behind in counts to guys that have seen you recently — they are aggressive, and they are here to do a job. You pay for your mistakes.”

He threw 14-out-of-21 first pitch strikes and retired seven Cubs batters on three pitches or less. There didn’t seem to be anything special about the sequences to Fowler and Schwarber compared to the other guys; rather, they just capitalized on a shaky start and Cole’s mistakes. Manager Clint Hurdle seconded that after the game, saying they “took advantage of missed locations.”

“The first at-bat, just an elevated ball that Schwarber was able to get the barrel to and work down the left field line,” Hurdle explained. “And the other pitch was a slider that was supposed to be at the back foot and just spun almost like a BP fastball that stayed in the path. Fowler had good looks. He didn’t get the ball where he wanted to there either.”

Of course, Cole turned the attention back towards Jake Arrieta at the end of the night.

“It’s not like they didn’t go out there and win the game – they definitely did,” Cole said. “They fought. They got out of a couple jams. [Arrieta] needed to make pitches, and they played real well together as a unit. It was a fantastic performance by the Cubs as a whole, and I have a lot of respect for those guys and the way they play the game.”

A 6th Inning to Forget

In the bottom of the 6th inning, Travis Snider led off with a 101 MPH (exit velocity) single off of Arrieta, and you could sort of feel that the dam could be cracking. In the next at-bat, Gregory Polanco lined a 107 MPH shot right at third baseman Kris Bryant which was gloved for the out. After Arrieta hit Josh Harrison, Andrew McCutchen hit a 107 MPH grounder up the middle which Addison Russell couldn’t handle, and the bases were loaded. Unfortunately, Starling Marte hit another hard ground ball — 109 MPH — this time being rolled into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.

I realized during the sequence that Arrieta had let up four hits in a row with an exit velocity greater than 101 MPH. Daren Willman then tweeted that Arrieta had only allowed 12 balls hit at 107 MPH+ this season, and the Pirates had three in a row in just that inning.

Unfortunately, the Pirates could not capitalize on the hard hits. That was probably the one opportunity that the Pirates had to crack Arrieta, and the door was slammed shut back in their face.

“He gives you some pitches to hit, it’s just you’ve got to hit them,” Andrew McCutchen said after the game. “We hit some balls hard. Some balls we hit right at people. Made some plays on them. He was just taking advantage of that strike zone.”

Notes and Quotes

**In the future, the Pirates may want to try to work it out so Cole pitches on normal rest leading up to a playoff start. Going into the game, Cole had a 3.97 ERA in 13 starts where he has 6+ days of rest. He has gone 5-4; however, all metrics inflate when Cole has a week between starts including a 1.29 WHIP. He is also striking out fewer batters when pitching on 6+ days rest.

**I believe the bottom of the sixth is also a minuscule example of why a one-game Wild Card scenario just simply does not make sense in baseball. Sometimes, baseball is a game of luck, and that is why it is built on three or four game series. In one game, anything could happen — run into a pitcher on a historic run (see -Bumgarner, Madison or -Arrieta, Jake), have a ball skip over your glove because of the dirt that costs you the game, hit line drives right at a defender every at-bat, for example. I’ve personally stuck to this point since the one-game Wild Card came into existence, and I believe that this game proves the point further. It simply does not make sense, and the Pirates luck in the bottom of the 6th is a small representation of that.

For now, though, Jake Arrieta continues to be on top of the world. The Cubs will move on to face the Cardinals, and the Pirates will pack up and go home. The Pirates may be the better team, but the Cubs were built better to win one game this year.

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15 COMMENTS

  1. Random thoughts about season and playoff game….
    (1) First of all, the Pirates had a great season – and in my opinion, the whole was more than the sum of the individual parts. Clint Hurdle deserves a lot of credit for getting the max out of his team. To win 98 games, with a very sub par defense and a rotation that was up and down all season, was a remarkable achievement. I think the team overachieved, given their obvious flaws in some areas.
    (2) As I have said before, the wild card game needs to be expanded to a best of 3 series – I’ve said that for over 3 years now – not just this year because of the outcome.
    (3) This outcome of the wild card game was very predictable and I saw it coming several weeks ago. Arrieta has just been lights out, and the Pirates have never hit him very well – going back to 2013. As good as Cole has been at times in 2015, he is no match for Arrieta. My only hope was that Arrieta would have a sub par performance, due to pitching in his first playoff game – and that he might be off his game. He was not as sharp as in the past, but he was still very dominant.
    (4) Cole – When he walked Fowler, I knew it was not going to be his night. You could tell he wasn’t at the top of his game. Cole is a very good starter, but he still needs to learn how to pitch. He is still young and will get better and better. He just wasn’t very good last night unfortunately.
    (5) Regarding free agents, it would be good to bring Happ and Blanton back – but, it depends on asking price. Happ had one half of very good pitching in past 5 years – that needs to kept in mind – so we don’t make a mistake like we did with Morton after his one half of good pitching 2 years ago. I cannot think of any other free agents that I would be enamored with in bringing back. Bastardo had his moments, but overall too many HRs and too many walks. Not reliable enough. We can do better.
    (6) I sure hope that we do not bring back Morton, Walker, Locke, Rodriguez, Alvarez, Stewart, or Morse. We need to get younger and we can do better than those guys – we have some young guys that need spots opened up for – Diaz, Bell, Hanson, Glasnow, etc. I’m assuming AJ and Ramirez are both retiring.
    (7) As I have said many times, the Pirates needed to win the division. And the only way they were going to do that was to improve their backend of the rotation – Morton and Locke cost the team many games down the stretch and they also taxed the bullpen. When they refused to give Glasnow a shot, we were doomed to the wild card game.
    (8) Getting to the playoffs 3 years in a row has been great – especially after 20 years of futility and incompetence. However, keep in mind, without the wild card being added, we don’t make the playoffs any of these 3 years. I’m not satisfied with just getting to a wild card playoff game – I want to see the team win the division outright. Next year will not be any easier, unless we upgrade the defense and the rotation. The Cubs may even be stronger next year and the Cardinals are the Cardinals.

    • Without the wild card game being added, they would have gone straight to the NLDS this year and 2013, and would have had a play-in game at pnc vs. the Giants last year.

  2. You don’t win the Stanley Cup without a hot goalie. And now it’s clear you don’t advance in the playoffs without a legit ace. A shutdown SP. 3 years in a row, the Bucs were eliminated by a dominant SP that they couldn’t touch. (Wainwright in ’13) The Bucs just don’t have that guy yet.

  3. I still wonder if Taillon and Kingham were in the rotation down the stretch instead of Morton and Locke, could they have won the division…

  4. I said it before, Cole is not a true number one starter. He has very little command of his pitches and relies to heavily on his fastball. When he misses, he is either to far inside or outside or to low or high for the batter to swing at those pitches. Why so bad against the teams in his division is simply because they know him. Fastball 85% of the time in first 3 innings. When he misses and gets behind in the count, he groves the fastball down the middle which gets hit and hit hard. I see Glasnow doing the same thing as Cole. If the Pirates can fix pitchers they should start with Cole and move on to Glasnow. The Pirate window is closing, especially if the Cubs go out and get Price. The Bucs simply do not have the pitching to match up with that. Beat the dam Reds and Brewers and win the division and stop this paly in bullshit.

    • The Pirates were a very good team this year, and they’re set up very well for the future. They most definitely have the pitching to compete with anyone. Cole had a very good year in only his second full season. I agree that maybe he needs to control his emotions better. It seemed the big stage and adrenaline may have gotten to him last night. But he’s only 25. I think you’re overreacting just a little.

    • The numbers tell quite a different story than you. He is a number one, the problem is: he isn’t Jake Arrieta. He isn’t ready to go into that game against that type of opposition and start matching zeros. I think that is a matter of his youth and his experience. He hasn’t really been in that type of environment against that level of competition on the mound for the other team. He let Arrieta get into his head, but that doesn’t diminish what he is as a player

      • Joe’s comment is really a reflection of how much good pitching is in the league right now. It’s ridiculous. Cole *is* and ace, but Cole *isn’t* on the level of the guys who *feel* like aces.

        I think Gerrit Cole is a fantastic pitcher and am very glad he plays for the Pirates, but there’s at least half a dozen starters in the National League alone that I, as a fan, would’ve rather had on the mound last night.

        • I have all the faith in the world that Cole will learn and grow from his experience and become the guy that we needed last night.

    • It is deeply flawed logic to point to their record vs. the Brewers and Reds and say that was the reason they lost the division, while ignoring that they were 27-6 against the NL West and 24-9 against the NL East. A win is a win unless you’re playing the Cards or Cubs.

  5. Interesting to note, but I said it in the GameDay post.. I wouldve removed Cole after Fowler hit in the 3rd. Why? Bc it’s one game do or die and he was missing his spots badly. Hurdle does this thing, he did last year too, where he doesn’t empty his bench/bullpen when there is no reason to save players. At 1-0 and a man on first and with Cole missing badly I bring in a reliever and try to hold serve there. Also interesting to note…our bullpen gave up 0 the remainder of the game. Maybe that 6th inning goes differently if it’s 1-0…maybe you’re using Broxton. On 3B and squeezing home with a Marte bunt…avoiding the SP and giving yourself a shot at the tie. They said it on the telecast and it is true…in a ONE game playoff you have to have a very, very quick hook with your guys…Hurdle doesnt and didnt. Why have such a strong bullpen and not use it? Hughes gets me out of that inning, Blanton pitches 4th and 5th and then we throw out the same Bastardo-Soria-Watson-Melancon setup. What I am talking about is EXACTLY what KC would’ve done last year…and clawed their way back into the game.

  6. He simply wasn’t good. Period! We have a special pitcher for our future, but he needs to learn to control his emotions. I actually thought all week that this wasn’t a good matchup. Cole is a top-tier pitcher, but he isn’t on the next level yet. I thought to myself that this type of game might get the better of him because of how emotional he is. I was right. Interestingly, I thought that J.A. Happ would have been the better pitcher in this matchup. Yes, I totally understand that something like that would have never happened. I’m just sharing with you my internal thoughts. Hurdle did what every manager would have done – you go with your “ace.” But I worried that his 2-3 runs per game would not be enough to win this game. It obviously is a moot point now, but that’s how I felt.

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