The Pirates' Andrew McCutchen takes some swings in the batting cage Tuesday at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. McCutchen is 8 for 23 against Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta. (Lucy Schaly/The Times)
PITTSBURGH -- Andrew McCutchen insists there is no extra pressure on the Pirates in facing the hottest pitcher in baseball in an elimination game.
“There is pressure on everyone at this time of the year, it’s no different for us than every other team that’s still playing,” the star center fielder said Tuesday. “We know what we have to do, show up at the ballpark and get ready to win a ballgame.”
However, the Pirates, like practically every other team in the National League, haven't been able to win a ballgame against Chicago Cubs ace Jake Arrieta since the beginning of summer.
Wednesday night, the Pirates be tasked with trying to beat him in the NL winner-take-all wild card game at PNC Park.
Arrieta led the major league in wins by going 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA in 32 starts during the regular season. Since June 21 -- the first day of summer -- the 29-year-old is 16-1 with a 0.86 ERA in 20 starts.
Runs figure to be at a premium as the Pirates will start ace Gerrit Cole (19-8 2.60). So there was much interest Tuesday when the teams worked out at PNC Park about what the Pirates’ lineup might look like.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said he has decided on the lineup but declined to announce it, citing competitive reasons.
“You research things, pay attention to things, you dig into things. I put on 15 pounds looking at pie charts the last two days,” Hurdle said with a smile. “It’s a whole new world out there to look at numbers. From a metrics analysis, you can take a pitcher and match him up against every hitter -- swing path, velocity, spin rate. It’s crazy.”
Hurdle doesn’t have a whole lot of good options. The players on the Pirates’ roster have hit a combined .170 against Arrieta with one home run, seven walks, 47 strikeouts, a .215 on-base percentage and a .216 slugging percentage.
Little wonder that Arrieta is 6-1 with a 1.68 ERA in nine career starts against the Pirates, including 3-1 with a 0.75 ERA in five starts this season.
The only Pirates hitter with any success against Arrieta is McCutchen, who is 8 for 23 (.348) with two doubles.
The other matchups are ugly as utility player Josh Harrison is 1 for 10 (.100), third baseman Aramis Ramirez is 2 for 19 (.105), first baseman Pedro Alvarez is 2 for 17 (.118) with a homer, catcher Francisco Cervelli is 2 for 13 (.154) with five strikeouts, second baseman Neil Walker is 4 for 25 (.160) with six strikeouts and right fielder Gregory Polanco is 3 for 16 (.188) with five strikeouts.
“What we need to do is a find a different way for us to get some things done, and we’re very well aware of what he’s done, how he’s performed -- the pitch sequences, the stuff, how it plays outs,” Hurdle said. “He’s been a very competitive pitcher and one of the elite pitchers in the league.”
Cole also has proven to be a tough matchup for the Cubs, going 7-1 with a 2.88 ERA in nine career starts, including 2-1 with a 2.13 ERA in four starts this year.
“Gerrit Cole is one of the best athletics I’ve seen pitch all year,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Everybody talks about his physical ability, but athletically this guy’s outstanding. That is one of the things I’ve noticed.
“First of all, the way he delivers the baseball is very fluid. Beyond that, if you watch him field his position and swing the bat, he’s a great athlete.”
First baseman Anthony Rizzo is one of the few Cubs who has had success off Cole, going 6 for 17 (.353) with a double.
“He's a competitor,” Rizzo said. “He throws hard. He has good stuff. We have to go up there like it is any other right-hander and stay within yourself and not try to do too much.”