Chicago Cubs: What Wild Card home field advantage means
By Jake Misener
Looking back at the 2012, 2013 and 2014 postseason, home field advantage and its impact is debatable: which is good news ma Joe Maddon‘s Chicago Cubs.
With Chicago leading 3-1 late in Milwaukee on the verge of an eighth-straight win and the Pittsburgh Pirates up 4-0 in the eighth over the Cincinnati Reds, all signs point to Wednesday’s wild card matchup being set in the Steel City.
Last season lent a valuable lesson to Clint Hurdle and the Bucs, though, as Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants rolled into PNC Park and blanked Pittsburgh 4-0, ending their season on a dime.
The year prior, it was that same Pirates team that fought off the division-rival Cincinnati Reds in the NL Wild Card game, propelling Pittsburgh to the National League Division Series in front of the home faithful.
Opposite the NL contest in Cleveland, Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays shut-out the Indians, heading the club to the American League Division Series, where they fell to the eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox.
So why bother delving into all of this?
Because, as we all know, with America’s Pasttime, we can dissect and evaluate every angle of every play in every game. With Chicago heading to the Steel City Wednesday for their first playoff action since 2008, it’s worth looking at the potential impact of playing that game away from the Friendly Confines.
In all, since the wild card round format change three seasons ago, the home team is 2-4; the eventual pennant-winning Kansas City Royals won a marathon game started by now-Cubs left-hander Jon Lester on Oakland’s end.
Back in 2012, both the St. Louis Cardinals and Baltimore Orioles, the respective road teams in their games, took home victories, in a clean-sweep for the visitors heading into the Division Series.
What does all this mean for the Cubs?
To understand what playing on the round will mean, you have to take into account the team and location of the game. In this instance, Maddon’s very young Cubs team is 47-33 on the road, which is near-identical to its mark at Wrigley, where they come in at 49-32.
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It’s been a tale of two halves for Chicago, as well. Prior to the All-Star Break, the team boasted a still-respectable .540 winning percentage (47-40). But since the Midsummer Classic, the Cubs have taken the gloves off – battering opponents to a the tune of a .662 clip, including their season-ending eight-game win streak.
Chicago took 11 of 19 games against the Bucs this year, going 7-4 at PNC Park. Their misfortunes against Pittsburgh’s scheduled starter, Gerrit Cole, were well-documented here yesterday, but, as we saw last season with Bumgarner and the Giants, a dominant pitcher can change the course of the entire postseason – and I’m not talking about Cole.
His counterpart on Wednesday, Chicago ace Jake Arrieta, finished the regular season by tossing six shutout innings on Friday, capping off a 22-win campaign in which he pitched to the lowest second-half earned run average in big league history.
When you’re riding a high like that, it’s hard to compare any opposing starter to you. Arrieta went 3-1 with a 0.75 ERA against the Bucs this season, allowing just three earned runs in 36 innings of work – numbers that far exceed Cole’s against the Cubs.
But the most encouraging statistic of all? The Chicago Cubs are still undefeated in October.
Next: Playoff implications abound on final day of regular season