How to get to Jake Arrieta

By Bill Brink about 10 hours ago

Five times this season, Jake Arrieta allowed four or more runs in a start. He made 33 starts, so that is one of many stats that illustrates how good he was. But let’s look at the outings during which he “struggled’ and see if there are any common threads.

May 2, vs. Brewers, Wrigley Field

Arrieta’s line: 5 IP 7 H 4 R 4 ER 1 BB 6 K

The Brewers got to Arrieta early after Ryan Braun’s two-run homer in the first inning. They scored two more runs in the second, on singles from Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura. Perhaps he’s vulnerable out of the stretch? Well, hitters are batting .194 against him with men on base, only slightly higher than his season .185 mark. 

Gomez stole second and third before scoring. Arrieta’s caught-stealing percentage on the mound is 18 percent, fifth-worst in the NL. His 27 steals allowed is fourth-worst in the league, behind teammate Jon Lester and A.J. Burnett. Perhaps he can be run on -- but you have to get on base first.

May 7, at Cardinals, Busch Stadium

Arrieta’s line: 51/3 IP 9 H 5 R 4 ER 1 BB 7K

The Cardinals got two runs in the second, again getting the leadoff batter on, and took advantage of an error and wild pitch. In the fourth, Arrieta intentionally walked Peter Bourjos to bring pitcher John Lackey to the plate with two outs. Here he was somewhat unlucky: Lackey hit a well-placed ground ball for a double, and Bourjos is fast enough to score from first. Jason Heyward stole second -- the running game again -- to open first base for Bourjos.

After two singles in the sixth, Arrieta was lifted. Arrieta’s BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was .429 May 2, .529 May 7. Arrieta also used his cutter a season-low 19.6 percent of the time, which could explain the balls in play.

May 23, at Diamondbacks, Chase Field

Arrieta’s line: 6 IP 7 H 6 R 3 ER 2 BB 7 K

A double by Mark Trumbo, the second batter Arrieta faced, got things going. After a walk to Paul Goldschmidt and a groundout that moved the runners into scoring position, Yasmany Tomas singled to score two runs.

The Cubs gave Arrieta the lead in the fifth and he gave it right back. Nick Ahmed, leading off the bottom of the sixth, singled. A.J. Pollock reached on an error. A strikeout gave Arrieta two outs, but he walked Goldschmidt again to load the bases. In the Diamondbacks’ lineup, pitching around Goldschmidt, who will finish in the top five in MVP voting, makes sense with two outs. But then David Peralta doubled to clear the bases, with the help of an error.

His swinging strike percentage was 9.8 percent, which dovetailed with his first two ”poor“ starts, when it was 9.4 and 7.8 percent. Those all rank in the lower half of his starts, by swinging strike percentage.

May 29, vs. Royals, Wrigley Field

Arrieta’s line: 7 IP 8 H 4 R 4 ER 0 BB 5 K

Alcides Escobar led off with a home run, and that would be the theme of the day: Arrieta allowed three. Alex Gordon homered in the second and Salvador Perez in the fourth. Eric Hosmer hit an RBI double in the sixth.

After not throwing a changeup for two starts, Arrieta peppered it in during this game. 

June 16, vs. Indians, Wrigley Field

Arrieta’s line: 5 IP 3 H 4 R 4 ER 6 BB 6 K

The six walks say it all, as does the resulting 112 pitches, 66 strikes, in five innings. Without watching the game it’s tough to know if he had poor command, was dealing with a small or inconsistent strike zone, or a combination of both. The Pirates can’t bank on six walks, especially when he walked zero or one batters in 19 of his starts and had a 113/23 K/BB ratio in 1071/3 innings after the All-Star break.

It’s worth pointing out his .205 BABIP after the All-Star break, not to diminish his record-setting second half but to add context, perhaps, to how it was so exceptional. He also stranded 88.2 percent of runners on base. 

The takeaways from the games where he seemed human: Hope his defense makes mistakes, hit homers, hope that for whatever reason (strike zone, command) he’s walking guys, get the leadoff man on base and hope he doesn’t throw his cutter very often. Not exactly a sound formula.

On one hand, getting his pitch count to more than 100 might help, as with any pitcher. He has a .246/.302/.298/.600 line after the 100th pitch of the game. But he allowed more than one run in seven of the 23 starts in which he threw 100 pitches and the .588 OPS allowed in pitches 1-25 isn’t far off. Four of the five teams above got to Arrieta early. His .617 OPS in the first inning is the highest of any inning. He has an .810 OPS allowed in any count without a strike, so perhaps trying to drive up his pitch count with patience isn’t the best option.

In today’s paper: How the elimination aspect of the wild-card game affects roster construction and in-game decisions.

We’ll chat today at 11 a.m.

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Projecting the Pirates' 25-man wild-card roster

By Stephen J. Nesbitt / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1 day ago

RHP Gerrit Cole (USA Today)

It took all 162 games, but it’s finally official: For the third year in a row, the National League wild-card game will be played at PNC Park. The Chicago Cubs and their ace Jake Arrieta will square off against the Pirates and their ace Gerrit Cole here Wednesday night.

So, here’s a stab at how the Pirates’ wild-card roster will shake out — it’ll officially be announced Wednesday morning. Scroll past the names for an explainer.

The ace, and the bullpen ...

1. Gerrit Cole — starting pitcher

2. Francisco Liriano — emergency starter

3. Joe Blanton — long reliever

4. Antonio Bastardo — lefty middle reliever

5. Arquimedes Caminero — righty middle reliever

6. Jared Hughes — righty middle reliever

7. Joakim Soria — righty late reliever

8. Tony Watson — lefty late reliever

9. Mark Melancon — closer

On the field ...

10. Francisco Cervelli — starting catcher

11. Pedro Alvarez — starting first baseman

12. Neil Walker — starting second baseman

13. Aramis Ramirez — starting third baseman

14. Jordy Mercer — starting shortstop

15. Starling Marte — starting left fielder

16. Andrew McCutchen — starting center fielder

17. Gregory Polanco — starting right fielder

Off the bench ...

18. Josh Harrison — backup IF/OF

19. Sean Rodriguez — backup 1B/OF

20. Michael Morse — backup first baseman

21. Travis Snider — backup outfielder

22. Chris Stewart — backup catcher

23. Elias Diaz — third-string catcher

24. Pedro Florimon — pinch-runner

25. Keon Broxton — pinch-runner

Who is eligible? Anybody who was on the 40-man roster as of Aug. 31. Otherwise, a player can be added later as an injury replacement. If I’m not mistaken, all players currently on the Pirates would be eligible, since the few that were not on the 40-man on Aug. 31 could be injury replacements for Casey Sadler, Deolis Guerra and Jung Ho Kang, all of whom went on the 60-day disabled list this month.

Pitching staff construction: The past two seasons, the Pirates have dressed nine pitchers for the wild-card game. In 2013, Liriano started and Cole was the emergency backup. In 2014, Edinson Volquez started and starters Jeff Locke and Vance Worley both dressed as backups — both potential long-relief options, and Locke in particular because the San Francisco Giants had a lefty-heavy lineup. Since Liriano would be on regular rest Wednesday, the Pirates could have him ready in case something disastrous happens to Cole. The emergency starter is the least likely player to play in this game. Well, he or the third-string catcher.

Pitchers left out: Locke, Worley and Bobby LaFromboise. LaFromboise was on the wild-card roster last season and could realistically be on it again should the Pirates decide to drop a pinch-runner and add a 10th pitcher. Why? Because the Cubs have two left-handed sluggers in Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber. Still, I’m not sure you need a third lefty reliever out of the ‘pen here.

Rest of roster construction: We can argue over the lineup later. What’s important here is the makeup of the bench — the guys Clint Hurdle can go to as bench bats, gloves or wheels late in a close game. Hurdle has dressed three catchers for the past two wild-cards, and he indicated the other day that this season likely will be no different. Harrison, Rodriguez and Morse are locks. Snider has plenty of big-league experience, can play two outfield positions and is a left-handed bat off the bench. Florimon and Broxton are this team’s burners. Maybe you get only one of them. That brings us to …

The 25th man: Right now, Broxton is the 25th man on the roster. He’s probably faster than Florimon, but he’s only been in the bigs for about a week and a half. If just one pinch-runner makes the wild-card roster, it’ll be Florimon. But here’s why I’d field two burners: In a game against Arrieta, the hottest pitcher in the majors, runs will be at a premium. Anything the Pirates can do to move a runner into scoring position is worth a shot. If Broxton could swipe a bag in the seventh, or score on a shallow sac fly, he’s been a bigger help to this team, in my opinion, that the other options for the 25th and final spot. Those other options? LaFromboise, perhaps, or bench bats like Jaff Decker and Travis Ishikawa, both lefties. Ishikawa has good postseason experience, but he’s barely played the past month and isn’t likely to be a factor in a do-or-die wild-card game.

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Pirates turn to J.A. Happ in regular-season finale vs. Reds

By Stephen J. Nesbitt / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1 day ago

Left-hander J.A. Happ wore a knit cap in the Pirates clubhouse Sunday morning. Despite the chilly October weather outside, Happ likes this time of year, and he’s waited a long time to pitch again in a meaningful late-season baseball game. This Game 162 certainly would qualify.

Happ, acquired at the trade deadline, will pitch for the Pirates today in a regular-season finale against the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park. A Pirates win or a Chicago Cubs loss would bring the National League wild-card game back to the North Shore for the third consecutive year.

Happ, 32, went to the postseason twice early in his career (2008-09), both times with the Philadelphia Phillies. Since, he’s pitched for just two better-than-.500 teams — the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays and the 2015 Pirates. After a rough first outing for the Pirates, allowing nine hits and four runs in 4 1/3 innings, Happ is 6-1 with a 1.53 ERA in nine starts since.

Asked Sunday when he realized Happ’s success probably wasn’t just a flash in the pan, manager Clint Hurdle said, “Probably his third consecutive established, consistent start with all the same staples and indicators in play. The first time was a nice step back from where he was. The second time: OK, good. The third time: I'm in.

“… The overall consistency in all these starts has been way past interesting. It's been fun to watch."



1. Jason Bourgeois CF
2. Eugenio Suarez SS
3. Joey Votto (L) 1B
4. Brandon Phillips 2B
5. Todd Frazier 3B
6. Jay Bruce (L) RF
7. Adam Duvall LF
8. Brayan Pena (S) C
9. Josh Smith RHP


1. Gregory Polanco (L) RF
2. Josh Harrison 2B
3. Andrew McCutchen CF
4. Neil Walker (S) 2B
5. Starling Marte LF
6. Pedro Alvarez (L) 1B
7. Francisco Cervelli C
8. Jordy Mercer SS
9. J.A. Happ (L) LHP

Stephen J. Nesbitt: and on Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.

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"Best night of my career."

By Bill Brink 2 days ago

Those were the words of A.J. Burnett after his final regular-season start Saturday, a game the Pirates lost 3-1 to the Reds. Burnett pitched 62/3 innings and allowed three runs, striking out nine.

Burnett passed Christy Mathewson for 31st on the all-time list. He finished with 2,513 career strikeouts.

’That’s a big name,“ Burnett said. ”It feels like, like I said, I’m old and I pitched a long time.“

Burnett said he got choked up in the dugout and pitching coach Ray Searage almost had him bawling. He was disappointed the Pirates lost but appreciative of the support he received, especially during his curtain call.

”Going back out there, you can ask me a million times what it’s like, but I can’t tell you, man,“ he said.

He gave the Pirates a chance to win, not shaking Francisco Cervelli after shaking too often in the first.

”Once I settled down after the first tonight, you saw that I had a little bit left,“ he said. ”One ball got over the middle late the game but to be able to go out there and get some swings and misses and jump up that list again, it’s not going to sink in for a while.“

Burnett left after a walk in the seventh. The crowd cheered as Burnett waved, then acknowledged the Reds’ dugout.

”It was extremely loud, one of the loudest moments I can remember here,“ said Jared Hughes, who was sprinting in from the bullpen and replaced Burnett. ”It was hard not to hear ’A-J, A-J.’“

But the Pirates did lose, unable to solve Brandon Finnegan or the Reds’ bullpen. They have to beat the Reds today or hope the Cubs, who have won seven in a row, lose to the Brewers.

”We got to come out, we got to score some runs, and try to get them down early and lock it down,“ Neil Walker said.

”In my mind, we ain’t done yet,“ Burnett said. ”We got a horse going up in a couple days against Chicago, and get me another start.“

Game story: Burnett caps 17-year career with final regular-season start.

Notebook: Cole named wild-card starter.

Sunday On the Pirates: Stephen J. Nesbitt traces the story of Cole’s ace status.

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Pirates pre-game: Cole to start wild-card game

By Bill Brink 2 days ago

In the non-breaking-news category: Gerrit Cole will start the wild-card game agains the Cubs.

Read our full breaking news story here.

“It’s special,” Cole said. “I think I’ve said it all along as he continued to put me in big games. It’s vote of confidence, it’s trust, it’s acknowledgement for the hard work that you put in to put yourself in that position. At the same time, this is a team game. It’s not all one player. We have to go out and win the game. I just have to keep us in a stone’s throw, I guess.”

Cole has a 2.13 ERA in four starts against the Cubs this year and 32 strikeouts in 251/3 innings. He has a 2.88 ERA in nine career starts spanning 561/3 innings, with 69 strikeouts.

“I knew after the last start I needed to be preparing for seven days,” Cole said. “I started that process already. I had a pretty good feeling. We had already decided, we just hadn’t made it official yet. Just try to get prepared. We had a couple opportunities this year where we’ve had extra rest, and I thought we’ve used those to our advantage quite well.”

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