Since its birth in 2012, the Wild Card game has received its fair share of praise and criticism (mostly criticism) and while many of us (especially here at Bench Points) believe it should be a three game series, there will always be that air of excitement that surrounds a one-game sudden death playoff game.
To catch some of you up, in recent years each league in the MLB has awarded two teams the chance to earn the wild-card spot. The challenge? Play one game and hope you don’t mess up. Tonight, the Back-To-The-Future-Destined-And-Farm-System-Proven Chicago Cubs take on the Quietly-Consistently-Good-Lately, Backed-By-The-Best-Center-Fielder-In-The-Game Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s MICHAEL J. SCIENCE FICTION GOAT CURSE vs. BLUE YET BLACK AND YELLOW COLLAR SEA THIEVES.
Or, FAKE ALLITERATION vs. REAL ALLITERATION. WHO WILL WIN?
Before I begin, the biggest shame of all is that these two teams are playing in the Wild Card in the first place. Both the Cubs and the Pirates finished with better records than the Mets and the Dodgers, but because they share the division with the Millennial Atlanta Braves, I mean, the St. Louis Cardinals, they are placed in a position where there can be only one.
This same issue occurred in the American League a couple of years ago, except the opposite, in which the Central Division was so atrocious, I didn’t feel like any team deserved, no matter the winner, to be in the playoffs. Maybe the MLB will one day adopt the top six seed rule, but unlike the NBA, divisions actually mean something in baseball.
The Pirates finished with a plus-101 run differential. Good for second in the NL (behind St. Louis) and fourth overall. They can get on base (OBP above .300), they can score, and they can hold the runs. They have home field advantage, where they finished 53-28. This should be the easy pick, right? Especially since we all know the Cubs are cursed. Superstition and baseball go hand in hand. The only thing that beats superstition is steroids, and well, that’s not an issue any more… right?
No. The Cubs, though they didn’t win as many games, or score as much. They do have plenty of power in that lineup, and their on-base is barely behind Pittsburgh. Couple the fact that they have the probable NL Cy Young on the mound in Jake Arrieta, with knowing Back to the Future II predicted they’d be World Series champions this year… they may be impossible to beat.
X-Factor? Can the Pirates score early enough that by the time Arrieta gets in his zone they have enough insurance to play with? This isn’t like last night. There is no question of pitcher identity. Arrieta is the real deal, and the Pirates will have to get on base any way they can, whereas Houston just had to put a couple in the seats.
Prediction? The crowd at PNC Park will be amazing. Andrew McCutchen will get four hits, maybe even a homerun on a first pitch meatball, and the Chicago Cubs will win handily 7-1 because Gerrit Cole is no Jake Arrieta and Kris Bryant is all sorts of amazing.