Chicago Cubs will face Gerrit Cole in NL Wild Card Game
By Jake Misener
The Pittsburgh Pirates announced Saturday that right-hander Gerrit Cole will start against the Chicago Cubs in Wednesday’s NL Wild Card game.
On Wednesday night in the National League Wild Card match-up, Joe Maddon‘s Cubs will battle the ace of the Bucs with all the chips on the table.
This hardly comes as a surprise given how good Cole was this season – he finished the regular season with a 19-8 record in 32 starts in which he posted a 2.60 ERA, notching 202 strikeouts, his first time eclipsing the 200-K mark in his still-young career.
So what does this mean for the Cubs, who are widely expected to anoint ace right-hander Jake Arrieta as Cole’s counterpart?
It means a feast-or-famine outcome. Either Chicago will get to Cole early-on or risk allowing the Pirates’ ace to settle into a routine, when he becomes even more dangerous.
This year against the Cubs, Cole pitched to a 2.14 earned run average and 0.947 WHIP in four starts, making the young Chicago lineup look foolish at times as they chased pitches out of the zone. His dominance against Maddon’s club is evidenced by his 8.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio and his double-digit strikeouts-per-nine.
Cole has been one of the most consistent pitchers in the game this year, emerging as a true ace in Pittsburgh.
At PNC Park, where most believe the Wild Card Game will be held next week, Cole was just as good as he was away from the Steel City – so regardless of where the one-game showdown is held, you know pretty well by this point what you’re getting from him.
Now, there are those who say he faded hard down the stretch and that he’s a liability for the Pirates in a big game. As an admitted die-hard Cubs fan, I laugh at those critics.
His “hard fade” consisted of a 2.98 earned run average and a 5.38 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which was actually better than his first-half mark of 4.14. He held opposing hitters to a .240/.280/.347 line – which adds up to a .627 OPS, which is just seven points higher than the mark he turned in prior to the All-Star Break.
This purported slide Cole had in the second-half, in my mind, should be chalked up to the fact that, at season’s start, he was just so good that it wasn’t sustainable (1.76 ERA, 30.2 IP, 35 K) – that is, unless you’re Arrieta, who did it for the entire second-half.
So how have the Cubs’ big bats fared against the emerging ace?
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Kris Bryant is 3-for-9 against Cole, but has zero extra-base hits and six punchouts, and Anthony Rizzo is a robust 6-for-17 (.353/.450/.412) against the Pirates’ righty with a pair of walks. But, in my mind, these two aren’t the key to the series.
Cole has found tremendous success against Chicago’s leadoff man, Dexter Fowler, and when Fowler doesn’t reach base, the Cubs tend to run into trouble offensively.
In Chicago wins this season, Fowler has a .373 on-base percentage; in losses, he comes in at .296. Against Cole this season, the veteran is just 3-for-14 with a .267 OBP. That, to me, is the make-or-break in the Wild Card Game.
Whether it’s in Pittsburgh or Chicago, hot or cold out – all of that is irrelevant. Gerrit Cole is one of the most consistent arms in all of Major League Baseball and with Arrieta likely on the hill opposite him, this year’s NL Wild Card action could be a low-scoring affair.
Next: Where should the Cubs look for rotation help this winter?