On Sunday morning, I woke up with a thought in my head. On the heels of a disappointing Cubs loss to the Dodgers in Los Angeles, where Jon Lester took his tenth loss of the year against eight wins, it occurred to me that a wild-card gamer in Pittsburgh was probably going to be the Cubs’ fate in 2015.
There are still five weeks of baseball left in the regular season, and a lot can still change. Since I picked the Cubs to win their division way back in March, I clung to the hope that they would do so for a lot longer than I should have. But to say that the Cardinals won’t win the division this year borders on insanity, and even I have to give the Redbirds their due.
A six-game deficit to the Pirates (now cut to five) also makes it seem likely that the Cubs will need to win in PNC Park to get into the NLDS this season. I’d love to see the National League half of the Oc-2-ber at Wrigley Field, but Pittsburgh would have to choke it away and Dusty Baker is not their manager (sorry, but I couldn’t resist that one). So off to Pittsburgh it appears to be, unless something really goofy happens over these last five weeks.
I theorized that since there is no playoff rotation, and it’s a one-and-done situation in these wild card games, it makes sense to give the ball to Jake Arrieta, if things do in fact play out in the way I just described. Pittsburgh has just 21 losses at home this season – and the second-best home record in MLB, behind only St. Louis – and Jake Arrieta and Mike Leake of Cincinnati are the only ones to have beat them twice in PNC Park.
But Lester is the purported ace of the Cubs staff, and his long-term, high-dollar contract suggests he should get the start at PNC in October. His past postseason success also bolsters his case for being the one to toe the rubber with the season on the line. But Lester has only pitched at PNC one time in his career, and he took the loss in that outing back in 2011. If decisions about matchups are supposed to be based on data and past experience, giving the ball to Lester in a one-game playoff at PNC would be a form of managerial malpractice, it appears to me.
As if to put an exclamation point on what had already been a dominant season (how many other pitchers are 11-1 in road starts this season?), Jake Arrieta tossed a no-hitter at the Dodgers on Sunday night, a game with a large national audience thanks to ESPN. If anyone was unaware of Arrieta’s brilliance this season, they know about it now. The Cubs now have themselves a bona fide ace, who should not only win the Cy Young award for the National League, but will hopefully carry them into the second round of the playoffs five weeks from now.