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.
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.
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
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.