NL Wild Card Preview: Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates

This matchup has seemingly been set for weeks, but now it is finally official as the Chicago Cubs, making their first playoff appearance since 2008, will head to Pittsburgh to take on the Pirates in the win-or-go-home National League Wild Card Game.

In a way, it is unfortunate that the two teams with the second and third best records in all of baseball – Pirates and Cubs respectively – are in this situation. But, in another way, it is going to be quite a game to take in.

Two of baseball’s best pitchers will be on the hill with the Pirates’ Gerrit Cole taking on Cy Young candidate Jake Arrieta for the Cubs.

Arrieta this season has been incredible posting a record of 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA. Cole on the other hand isn’t too far behind with a 19-8 record and a 2.60 ERA.

This could be one of the best pitching matchups in a one game playoff we have ever seen and it would be surprising if this is a high scoring game.

These two NL Central foes have played a total of 19 games this season with the Cubs winning 11 of those matchups. This Wild Card game will be their 20th head-to-head game and this will decide who will be moving on to face another NL Central foe, the St. Louis Cardinals, in the NLDS which starts on Friday in St. Louis.

Joe Maddon, in his first year as manager of the Cubs, has led them to a 97-win season, which would have won every other division in baseball by at least two games. Nonetheless, it was a very successful season on the North Side of Chicago for the Cubs and if they can make it past this game against the Pirates, they have as good of a chance as any other team to make it far into October.

The Cubs finished one game short of hosting this game, but instead will have to take their show on the road to a very hostile environment in Pittsburgh. Some would say that they may be at a disadvantage, but if you look at the numbers, the Cubs have the best road record in baseball with 48 wins.

Chicago has been led by their young stars this season and they haven’t been too overwhelmed at anything thrown their way this season. Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are just three guys in this lineup that are big producers, but they have really gotten contributions from their entire lineup throughout the regular season.

As for their opponent, this is the Pirates’ third consecutive Wild Card game. The Pirates are 1-1 in baseball’s version of sudden death. In 2013, they beat the Reds and then in 2014 they got shutout by the eventual World Series champions, the San Francisco Giants. Both of these games took place at PNC Park, and they will get set to host their third straight NL Wild Card matchup.

The Pirates have gotten their contributions in a multitude of ways.

Andrew McCutchen has been the main guy in Pittsburgh this season, but it’s one man that they won’t have that could be a key. After suffering a brutal leg injury, Jung Ho Kang is out for the season as they have been missing him for a few weeks. Kang was a big part of this team, but they have moved on without him and that was the reason they brought in Aramis Ramirez at the trade deadline.

Starling Marte, Neil Walker, and Gregory Polanco have all been big pieces this season and in this one game playoff, they will all need to be on their game to beat Arrieta who has seemingly been unstoppable this season on the mound.

This is a team built to last in the playoffs, but consistent pitching beyond Gerrit Cole will be of utmost importance because at this time of year, you need that pitching to carry you. We see it every year and it doesn’t look like the formula to win will change.

There are some great storylines heading into this game with the Cubs having not made the playoffs since 2008 and for the Pirates, they are looking to get back to the NLDS like they did in 2013, but maybe get a little bit farther into the Postseason.

This will once again be must watch TV at 8:07 p.m. EST Wednesday night on TBS. These are two fantastic ball clubs and one of these 90-plus-win teams will be heading home, maybe undeservedly, after just one game. Everything will be on the line Wednesday night.

Will it be the Cubs that walk the plank, or will the lovable losers finally make a run at, dare I say, a World Series title?

Prediction: Cubs defeat Pirates, 4-2

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