Pirates Must Focus Beyond Arrieta for Wildcard Win
The Pirates don’t have to beat Arrieta; they merely have to outlast him.
By now you’re probably aware that Jake Arrieta is poised to bring a more abrupt halt to the Pirates’ progress toward a World Series championship than a Fort Pitt tunnel shut down.
The Cubs’ starter in the National League Wild Card Game has already done this season what only Sandy Koufax (1963), Denny McLain (1968), Ron Guidry (1978) and Dwight Gooden (1985) had done previously (win at least 22 games, lose no more than six and post an ERA under 2.00 while doing so).
If Arrieta can do what those guys did in seasons after which all four were unanimous Cy Young Award winners, he can surely do what Madison Bumgarner did to the Pirates last season, or so the theory goes.
I get it; it isn’t going to be easy.
But the Pirates don’t have to beat Arrieta to advance to the National League Division Series against St. Louis; they merely have to outlast him. And they did that as recently as Sept. 16 at PNC Park in a game they ultimately didn’t win but one that nonetheless stands as the blueprint for surviving the Wild Card.
Arrieta departed that night after eight innings having allowed six hits, two runs (one earned) and one walk, and having struck out five on 117 pitches.
The game was tied at 2-2.
The Cubs eventually won it, 3-2, in 12. But should a similar scenario unfold the Pirates would have to like their chances (Vance Worley presumably wouldn’t be pitching the 12th inning this time).
The real trick is going to be getting on the other side of Arrieta.
That’s going to depend first and foremost on Gerrit Cole. But it’s also going to be incumbent upon the Bucs to play the type of error-free, air-tight, locked-down, fundamentally-sound baseball a one-game knockout or a Game 7 demands.
It goes way beyond whether Pedro Alvarez will find himself in a position to botch a ball or throw one away or otherwise make what turns out to be the fatal mistake.
There’s a component of unpredictability associated with the way Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco and Josh Harrison, to name three more of this year’s prominent Pirates, play the game.
Sometimes, it’s magical.
But other times, it’s something the Pirates have to work around, and that becomes infinitely more difficult to do in October.
“We win 98 games; some of them have been wild wins, overcoming base-running mistakes and errors,” 1971 World Series hero Steve Blass observed. “You don’t have to say this to the players but they have to play an absolute squeaky-clean game. They have to make all the plays they need to make. They need to be conscious of what they’re doing on the base paths. They need to do everything they can do to cash in one or two opportunities because that’s all you might get.
“Good defense, run the bases properly, if you get an opportunity, cash it in. Two runs might win this thing Wednesday.”
Get ’em on, get ’em over, get ’em in.
Hit the ball, throw the ball, catch the ball.
Make sure the Cubs don’t run wild on the bases (they swiped five and should have been credited with six on Sept. 16; there’s that do’s-and-don’ts blueprint again).
And repeat as necessary, especially against Arrieta.
Best-case scenario: The Pirates play the prerequisite clean game they’ve proven they’re capable of playing this season, squeak past the Cubs and go on to win the World Series (the Bucs are comprised to thrive in best-of-whatever settings much more than they are win-or-else confrontations).
Worst nightmare: Arrieta dominates, but what really seals the Pirates’ fate is booting one that ought to have been gobbled up or making the wrong out at the wrong base at the wrong time.