Pirates: Second-best record, first-round exit

The Toronto Blue Jays will do something Thursday neither of the home teams in the wild-card games could: score.

Presumably, the team that scored the most runs in MLB this season can do so in the playoffs, because the Pirates on Wednesday, like the Yankees a night earlier, couldn’t.

Pittsburgh came closer — if Starling Marte’s one-hopper goes almost anywhere but directly at an infielder, it’s probably two runs instead of two outs — but the Cubs’ 4-0 shutout was the second straight and fourth in four years of wild-card games. The home team has managed just two wins and 19 runs in eight wild-card games, and almost half of those were by the Royals in a 9-8 extra-inning win over the Athletics last year.

The Pirates might have had an advantage of home field Wednesday, but like last year, they didn’t in starting pitchers (which is saying something, considering Gerrit Cole’s 2015: 19 wins, 2.60 ERA and .623 OPS against).

It’s hard to imagine a more torturous quarter century than that Pirates’ fans have endured, from losing consecutive seventh games to the Braves in 1991 and ’92, to 20 years of not making the playoffs, to losing  to the Cardinals in five and wild-card shutouts to Madison Bumgarner and Jake Arrieta when they do.

(The previous 35 years were pretty fruitful, though, from Mazeroski’s homer to Clemente dominating the ’71 Series to We Are Family in ’79, with the bonus of Dock Ellis throwing a no-hitter while whacked out on acid. Cubs fans have endured a lot of the former without any of the latter.)

There’s no crying in baseball, but there’s cursing, and the Pirates are entitled to at their fate. They won 98 games in 2015, more than any team in baseball but the Cardinals, which earned them nine innings with the possible NL Cy Young Award winner.

It’s hard to believe that’s Arrieta, who has gone from an Oriole with three wins, nine losses and a 6.20 ERA in 2012 to a Cub who won 22 games, had a 1.77 ERA and fanned 236 batters in 229 innings in 2015. In three years he went from a pitcher who lost his spot in the rotation to possibly the best in MLB (and one who lost his spot in the All-Star Game to A.J. Burnett. It seems hard to believe now that Arrieta couldn’t make the NL staff. No wonder the American League will have home-field advantage in the World Series.) 

The Pirates didn’t do much more than get mad at Arrieta after he hit a couple of batters, and reliever Tony Watson plunked him in the hip/backside, proving only that Arrieta is just as good while sore, and Sean Rodriguez has anger-management issues.

The Pirates hit Arrieta three batters after Marte’s double play, which was no coincidence, and it culminated with Rodriguez working over the Gatorade as if he were Sylvester Stallone hitting the prime rib in Rocky. Given Rodriguez’s .246 average and .362 slugging percentage, it’s about the hardest he’s hit anything this year.

Rodriguez was probably motivaed by frustration, and understandably so, and perhaps embarrassment . He was pinch-hit for on his first at-bat

But there was some history, too. The NL Central is MLB’s version of the SEC — in 2015, it’s where the best teams play and where grudges are held as if they were the resin bag, not released until the powder is spilled a bit. The Pirates might have preferred to throw at Chris Coghlan, whose slide ended Jung Ho Kang’s season, but Coghlan wasn’t in the lineup. 

It probably won’t be the last incident for the Cubs this year, not if they play five games against the Cardinals. The good news is that, if the post-game show is any indication, it will all pass. If Gary Sheffield and Pedro Martinez can sit side by side, so too might Rodriguez and Arrieta a decade hence.

Royals vs. Astros: The Royals must see a younger sibling in the Astros, and feel a tinge of jealousy. Last year, the Royals were the wild-card darlings. This year, they’re all grown up, from an 89-win wild card to a 95-win division champ. The Astros will be the underdog and sentimental choice the Royals were last year, but you can’t write sentiment into the lineup. The Astros will have to do better than their AL-worst 33-48 record on the road, and they won’t have Dallas Keuchel to do it for them as he did Tuesday. He’ll get one start in the series, at home on Sunday. If the Astros trail 2-0, it might not matter. If it’s 1-1, it’ll be the Royals’ turn to be alarmed. 

Blue Jays vs. Rangers: The Rangers will start righty Yovani Gallardo, which makes sense given that the Jays are even better against lefties. Problem is, Gallardo gave up 43 hits, 10 walks, four home runs and 16 runs in 29.2 September innings. The hope is that Gallardo has done his best pitching in 2015 against the Jays: in two starts against Toronto, he pitched 13.2 scoreless innings. Figure that out. Gallardo had a 5.73 ERA in three starts vs. the last-place Athletics, but a 0.00 ERA against the best offense in baseball.  The Brewers always said Gallardo was a bit of an enigma.  Gallardo hasn’t pitched into the sixth inning since August, and hasn’t recorded a seventh-inning out since June, but both times he did it against the Jays. He’ll need to pitch that well, since David Price probably will.
Correction: An earlier version said Rodriguez committed an error which led to the Cubs’ first run. Wrong on both counts. Neil Walker committed the error, and it was quickly  erased on a double play.

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2 Responses to Pirates: Second-best record, first-round exit

  1. Mike says:

    “They won 98 games in 2015, more than any team in baseball but the Cardinals, which earned them nine innings with the possible NL Cy Young Award winner.”

    Quite the twist of fate. I would be perfectly fine, as I suspect the TV networks, owners and player’s union would be, with a best-of-three for the wild card teams. May not have made a difference in either situation this year, as I think the better teams won both games, but it would force these teams to throw someone other than their best pitcher to advance, which is what has to be done in all other rounds of the playoffs. Lob two games off the 162 game schedule to account for it and make sure the season starts on 4/1 every year, regardless of the calendar.

    • I have no issue with the sudden death nature of the wild-card game, though I do understand — and agree with — your point about about a dominant pitcher. But these are all teams that didn’t win their divisions. They’re lucky to have a second chance at all. The one-game nature puts a premium on winning your division, as it should. That said, the Cubs-Pirates game was an unusual circumstance. They had the second- and third-best records in MLB this year, and perhaps they both deserved more than one game. However, if you want to add a couple of games to the postseason, I’d prefer it done in the divisional series. Those best-of-fives are short, as any team which loses one of the first two games at home can attest.

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