Tonight, the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates take aim at each other for the final undecided playoff spot in the 2015 postseason. The NL wildcard spot. While they duel, the St. Louis Cardinals await the victor at Busch Stadium for Game 1 Friday night. As we wait for the skies to go dark and the final order of regular season business to be resolved, I ask you this question Cardinal Nation. Who are you rooting for? Who do you want the Cards to face in the NLDS? Let me tell you who I want.
I’ll take the Cubs and for a few reasons.
*Big bats have little experience in the postseason. The majority of this Cubs offensive attack is green when it comes to playoff experience and that means something. It’s a different beast in the postseason. The crowds are louder. Every at bat means something. The stakes are as high as ever. The opportunity to acquire something special looms over the regulars. You can tell me how good Jake Arrieta has been in the second half or how polished Anthony Rizzo has become at the plate, but they haven’t tasted the playoffs yet. They don’t know what it’s like. The only thing Rizzo knows about the playoffs is making ill-advised predictions. Jason Hammel has three starts in the playoffs. Dan Haren hasn’t pitched in October since 2009. Jon Lester has the most experience. A lot of these Cubs are new faces in the postseason.
*The Cubs rotation is weaker than the Pirates, not by much but enough. After Arrieta, Jon Lester is the likely candidate to start the NLDS. At most, Arrieta will pitch one game in this series. While they only hit .216 off Lester, the Cards beat him three times in 2015 and hit three home runs. He isn’t invincible, and neither is Hammel or Haren. If the Cards get Kyle Hendricks, they beat him in their one start. The Pirates have Francisco Liriano and J.A. Happ, two Cardinal killers, waiting for the Birds. The Cubs starters, while posting the third lowest ERA behind the Cards and Pirates, aren’t as formidable in a short series.
*The Cubs bullpen is weaker than the Pirates. Pittsburgh’s bullpen ERA of 2.67 led the Majors in 2015. The Cards had the 3rd best bullpen ERA. The Cubs have the 8th best, which is solid but not as scary as the Pirates. In the playoffs, the bullpen efforts are magnified. There are tons of small leads and the Cubs bullpen is more likely to break. If I have to chose between Tony Watson and Pedro Strop, I’ll take Strop. If I have to choose between Jorge Soria or Fernando Rodney, I’ll take Rodney. If I have to choose between Mark Melancon and Hector Rondon, I’ll take the latter. And so on so on. The Cubs’ late inning crew isn’t as formidable and has less playoff experience to boot.
*The Pirates are a better overall hitting team. They ranked 11th in runs scored(697), 9th in batting average(.260), 9th in on base percentage(.323) and slugged two points less than the Cubs as a team. While the Cubs can hit the long ball, the Pirates are more balanced and can break through against many pitching staffs. They have speed in Starlin Marte, Gregory Polanco and Josh Harrison and home run bats in Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen. The Pirates played the Cards better overall in 2015.
Both teams have very good managers in Joe Maddon and Clint Hurdle. Each field is an extremely loud and difficult place to play baseball games in.
I understand losing to the Cubs would be a very bad ending to the 2015 campaign. Depressing in fact. There’s something sinister in that potential result should the two teams meet in the Division Series. The Cubs were supposed to be playoff ready in 2016 or 2017 but instead used a very good second half and an unreal Arrieta to earn a Wildcard play in spot. The gap is closing and with a playoff victory over the Cards, the rivalry would be as fresh as ever. A loss to the Pirates would be unfortunate but more of a year to year build from Hurdle’s bunch after seasons of falling short. Let’s be honest. The Cards don’t need to lose to either of these teams, so in the end it’s a matter of which poison you want. All three teams had amazing seasons. Both batches are potent. Which one stings the most?
In the end, the Pirates pack a better all around punch. Sure, they don’t have their breakout talent in Jung Ho Kang anymore or have a 100% lethal A.J. Burnett, but still have a great rotation and lineup that hits Cardinal pitching well and played a lot of close games this season. More than five games between the Cards and Bucs ended in a walkoff this season. A playoff series would be very similar and for my money, their bullpen is what separates these two clubs. Plus, the Cubs are more free swingers, strikeout prone and can be locked down.
If I had to choose which team I’d like the Cards to face in the NLDS in 2015, I’d take the Chicago Cubs. You can’t tell me that series wouldn’t be thrilling. As my dad said after a Cards comeback victory over the Cubs this season. “We gave them a taste. Now that’s enough.” If the Cubs make it out of Pittsburgh with a victory, it will be appropriate for the sheriff in town to quickly shut them up.
That’s my take. What’s yours? Tell me in the comments section and thanks for reading. You can also find this article on KSDK Sports page.