Behold, the Pirates’ wild-card roster:
Gerrit Cole (starter)
Francisco Liriano (L)
Antonio Bastardo (L)
Tony Watson (L)
Pedro Alvarez (L)
Pedro Florimon (S)
Neil Walker (S)
Gregory Polanco (L)
Travis Snider (L)
There are no real surprises here other than perhaps the omission of lefty Bobby LaFromboise, who might have been useful against Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo or Miguel Montero. Lefties were 3 for 19 with eight strikeouts against him this year, but Jason Heyward also just hit a grand slam against him when he was brought in for a left-on-left matchup.
Others left off: Jeff Locke, Rob Scahill, Vance Worley, Travis Ishikawa, Jaff Decker.
Good morning, happy wild-card day. Check back here throughout the morning for info and analysis on the Pirates’ and Cubs’ wild-card rosters once they are announced, and Stephen J. Nesbitt will chat about it at 2 p.m.
Brady McCollough takes a look at how long the Pirates’ window to contend will stay open. They face decisions this offseason on Neil Walker, Mark Melancon and Pedro Alvarez, but the big one looms a few years off: Trade Andrew McCutchen before free agency to get more than just a draft pick for him, or keep him through the end of his contract, knowing they probably won’t be able to re-sign him?
The history of the wild-card game, from a 1993 vote to a 2009 committee to PNC Park.
From Nesbitt, a fun dive into the departure of the Pirates’ mascot for the team they oppose tonight.
Pirates notebook: Cole flies under the radar before his start.
Cubs notebook: Maddon still focuses on fun.
Gene Collier writes about Maddon’s “Go out and play,” mentality, with an assist from the Rolling Stones.
Over at Grantlant, Jonah Keri previews tonight’s game.
USA Today’s Bob Nightengale writes that Cole’s confidence matches him up well against Jake Arrieta.
From the Chicago Tribune: Cubs veterans talk about keeping it simple.
Neil Walker addressed reporters during today’s clubhouse availability. Here are some of the highlights.
On Gerrit Cole:
"I like that nobody is talking about him. Let be honest, all we've heard all week is about their starter. We've got a prettty good one."
On Jake Arrieta:
"You've got to assume he's going to be as good as advertised. Having said that, we have to do a good job of taking advantage of situations. We have to be really smart about how we're going about our at-bats, knowing the situations and what he's trying to do. ... He's different with every guy. That's the one thing that makes him good — he doesn't have a ton of patterns. But you do know his best pitch is his slider/cutter. Knowing that, you kind of work off of that. There are some things I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you."
On adjusting to Arrieta vs. sticking with your approach:
“The more you understand what you do best as an individual and then you kind of see how he’s pitched you over the past starts. You try to kind of take that information, put it all together and try to grab an approach from there.
”It usually doesn’t differ from a lot of pitchers. Guys tend to work away in certain situations and in[side] in certain situations. Their put-away pitches are typically breaking balls and curveballs or sliders. You try not to change too much to go against something you may do well.“
”You got a guy that’s four-pitch mix guy with four plus pitches. You have to be opportunistic when the time comes.“
On batters being able to adjust to different pitchers:
”For this level, to be successful and hang around here, that’s the one thing that you have to be good at is making adjustments on the fly, making adjustments pitch to pitch, at-bat to at-bat. If you’re not able to do that, you’re kind of weeded out. We know what we’re capable of doing individually and as a group. It’s just a matter of scoring those runs when you have an opportunity.“
On out-of-the-ordinary circumstances in the wild-card game:
”I think more from a pitching standpoint, these starters are not going to come out and pace themselves. They’re going to go as hard as they can and if for some reason something happens, you know you have all hands on deck in the bullpen.“
On how the defense will handle possibly cutting off a run vs. playing for an out:
”That kind of depends on who’s hitting, who’s running. … We expect a tight game tomorrow so we expect every run to be important. You get a situation in the first inning with a man on third and one out, I’m expecting probably both sides to be infield in.
“You understand who’s on the mound, is he a ground-ball guy, is he a fly-ball guy. Is the guy hitting a speed guy, what does he do well?”
On getting to Arrieta early:
“The guys at the top, they have to be stubborn with their approach. If they see he’s being a little erratic, not to get too aggressive in hitter’s counts. Maybe drop a bunt down here or there. You look at our team, we’ve got some guys that can really run at the top of the order. That’s important in every game for us. If we get guys on, we feel like we can wreak some havoc on the starting pitcher or at least make him think we’ll be on the run and on the move and maybe hit and run here and there. When you can get that mentality on the starting pitcher, you can get more fastballs as hitters.”
Arrieta said he is comfortable game-planning against the Pirates, does it go both ways?
“We understand what he’s going to do, we understand what makes him good, we understand where he likes to get his outs, what pitches he likes to use to get his outs, how he likes to get ahead.
”That’s where the stubborn approach kicks in. You know you’re going to get so few chances, you have to be ready when those come.“
Do you wonder how he reacts if he falls behind early?
”I do know that pitchers tend to settle in a little more when they feel like they are more comfortable, if they maybe get through the order with a lot of first pitch swings or a lot of first-pitch outs. That’s the hope, that you can put some runs on the board early and let your guy kind of settle in.“
What have you seen in Cole’s past four starts?
”His stuff has been similar all year. The thing he does well is he reads hitters well. He’s obviously got an upper 90s fastball that gets on guys and then he’s got a wipeout slider. He knows how he wants to attack guys. His control is typically very good to both sides of the plate and he knows how to put guys away.“
Petrina McCutchen, Andrew’s mom, will sing the national anthem for Wednesday’s wild-card game. Bob Walk will throw out the first pitch and Jung Ho Kang will be in the house for pre-game introductions.
Jake Arrieta and Gerrit Cole had similar thoughts during their press conferences today. Arrieta: “It’s going to come down to who makes the fewest amount of mistakes, on the mound, in the field and on the bases.
Cole: ”A lot of luck involved, you know, but there's a lot of little details that matter. And the team that takes care of those the best comes out on top usually.“
Cole had a very diplomatic answer when asked about Pedro Alvarez’s defense and if it affected him: ”Well, I mean, I like to be pretty athletic off the mound in terms of taking care of my job, which is covering first base, fielding bunts in certain situations, fielding slow rollers to the first base and having to communicate and direct traffic. So there is no game plan. I think Pedro does a fine job over there, and I love having him in the lineup. He tends to hit a lot of home runs when I pitch.“
Clint Hurdle didn’t offer much one way or the other when asked how he weights Alvarez’s defensive issues with the power he provides. ”You drill down to the facts,“ Hurdle said. ” ... It comes down to strengths vs. challenges.“
Cole was excited about facing Arrieta, the same way he was excited for Game 5 of the 2013 NLDS against Adam Wainwright.
”I feel like when you're in these situations you want to face the best,“ Cole said. ”You want to get the best measure and best temperature of the other team because you really want to earn these wins. You work so hard to put yourself in position to have these opportunities, and it doesn't feel any better than going up against the best. On the flip side, I think you can sit here and say he's probably going to go pretty deep and he's probably going to go pretty low. So you're probably going to have to go pretty deep and you're probably going to have to go pretty low too. So you know what you're going to get.“
Said Cole of pitching at home in a wild-card environment: ”t can rattle some people. That's no joke. I think we saw that a couple years ago.“
He was referring to Johnny Cueto, who dropped the ball on the mound as the crowd chanted his name before allowing a home run to Russell Martin.
”Tremendous competitor, really young guy who is pitching beyond his years,“ Arrieta said of Cole. ”I watched him when he was at UCLA and knew that he was going to be a really good one. I knew that it wasn't going to take very long. We've seen him against us a couple times this year, I think. He's been really good. He features plus stuff. Everything he throws is plus.“
Andrew McCutchen lent his voice to this article, posted today on Derek Jeter’s Web site, The Player’s Tribune, about the wild-card atmosphere
Jake Arrieta addressed the media today and expressed confidence in his ability to pitch against the Pirates despite the fact that they have seen him frequently recently.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s much different,” he said. “It’s the same preparation, it’s a team I am confident analyzing and scouting and pitching against.”
Arrieta talked about the environment he expects and his feelings beforehand.
“It’s a nervous excitement,” he said. “It’s not anxiety. This is why I’ve prepared as hard and as rigorous as I have for the past however many years.”
Arrieta praised Gerrit Cole: “Nineteen wins, a 2.60 ERA, that speaks highly of just about anybody,“ he said.
”Tremendous competitor, really young guy pitching beyond his years. I watched him at UCLA and knew he was going to be a really good one.
Everything he throws is plus. He’s got a lot of movement.“