There Was No Doubt About It

A Pittsburgh Pirates Blog

Pirates vs. Cubs: A New Rival

05.02.16 Posted by

Cole vs. Hammel, 7:05 PM

Let me be clear: we shouldn’t throw dirt on the St. Louis Cardinals just yet. Not as a contender for the Wild Card, and certainly not as a possible spoiler to Pirate success in 2016 (there’s an impediment/sediment joke here I’m too lazy to workshop). They’re 12-13 and we swept them to open the season, but their run differential is actually better than ours, and they’ve actually scored a lot of runs.

That said, it’s hard to argue that their franchise is finally trending down, that their amazing run of success is probably ending, and that the Pirates and Cubs have brighter presents and futures. Insofar as one can be confident about anything like this, it seems likely that our bitter rivalry with the Cards is just going to sort of peter out this year, and that our ire is going to be directed a little further north, and a little east, of the place it’s been fixed like a laser for the last three seasons.

That place is Chicago, home of the Cubs. The Cubs are baseball’s best team, and that doesn’t have to be qualified: they have the most raw talent, the most wins, and the best run differential, and all this after being wildly heralded as the best team heading into this season. The Pirates, yet again, find themselves to be a very good ball club with the misfortune of being in a division with possibly the best team in the game. It’s almost funny to emerge from two decades of losing so strong, so competitive, only to find yourself Rorschach’d in a division like this, year after year, now with an entirely different team, without even an intervening year to make a run.

None of that should be taken to mean the Pirates can’t win this division: a lot of things have gone wrong in the early going, but the Bucs have a three game series against the Cubs, and they’re only three games back. Right now, the Cubs are the better team, but as the last few years have reminded us, the better team doesn’t always win. For once, that fact might prove useful.

I’ve written a few hundred words now without talking about the actual games we’re about to play, but here’s a general overview: everyone talks about the Cubs’ offense, and it’s very good (they’ve scored six more runs than we have). But they’re winning because their pitching has been absurd: they’ve given up 61 runs, the fewest in the majors. That’s 2.65 runs per game. And we’re going against their top two pitchers, Arietta and Lester, after tonight. They’ll face Niese and Nicasio, respectively.

The Cubs, on the other hand, are dodging Liriano. They face Cole tonight, opposite Jason Hammel. Cole looks more or less the same this year as last, albeit with a little more rust. Hammel has a sparkling 0.75 ERA, but it’s largely a mirage: his FIP is 2.48 and his xFIP is 3.95, so he’s pretty much exactly what he’s been the last few years: a decent middle-rotation guy. His K rate is down, his walk rate is up, and an insane 92% left on base rate is largely responsible for the discrepancy.

We don’t need to win this game, or this series, but it’s hard to imagine the Cubs giving us too many openings. Several of their pitchers are bound to regress, but they’re looking about as good as advertised. That means to catch them, we might have to over perform in our head-to-head matchups. That starts tonight.

This is far and away the best pitching matchup we have this series, so a series win almost certainly means winning tonight’s game. First pitch is at 7:05 PM.

Filed under: game preview, Gerrit Cole