2015 National League Wild Card Game
(Redirected from 2015 NLWC)
|2015 National League Wild Card Game|
97 - 65 in the NL
|1 - 0
98 - 64 in the NL
The 2015 National League Wild Card Game matched two of the three best teams in the National League; in fact, the two teams had the second-best and third-best records in all of baseball. But because both the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs played in the NL Central division, where the St. Louis Cardinals had posted the best record in the majors, one of them would make an early exit from the postseason in spite of a great year. For the Pirates, it was the third straight year they they hosted the Wild Card Game at PNC Park.
The game featured a match-up of two of the top starting pitchers in the game, Gerrit Cole for the Pirates and Jake Arrieta for the Cubs, both coming off breakout seasons. When they had faced one another on September 27th, all observers had said it was a preview of this game, and they were right. Since Arrieta had won that duel, and gone an incredible 11-0, 0.41 over his last 88 1/3 innings, the Cubs had the edge even though they were playing on the road.
At least for the Cubs, the game went according to script. Arrieta was dominating once again, pitching a complete game four-hit shutout, while Cole allowed 4 runs in 5 innings, including a two-run homer by Kyle Schwarber in the 3rd and a solo shot by Dexter Fowler in the 5th. The Cubs won, 4-0, and the Pirates were left in the dust in spite of a 98-win season.
The Pirates gave the Cardinals a run for their money all season, but could never quite catch them. They were once again led by CF Andrew McCutchen, flanked by RF Gregory Polanco and LF Starling Marte, forming perhaps the best outfield in the game, both offensively and defensively. 1B Pedro Alvarez led the team with 27 homers but was a defensive liability. Other starters included C Francisco Cervelli a good offensive performer and handler of pitchers, but vulnerable to the running game, 2B Neil Walker, a steady if unspectacular performer; and 3B Josh Harrison, coming off a solid second half following his breakout season a year earlier. However, they were missing rookie IF Jung-Ho Kang, who had proved to be a team leader until breaking a leg in a game against the Cubs on September 17th. Gerrit Cole had gone 19-8, 2.60 as the Pirates' pitching ace, and the bullpen was deep, led by closer Mark Melancon, the major league leader with 51 saves and a solid crew of middle relievers including Tony Watson, Antonio Bastardo, Jared Hughes, Joakim Soria and reclamation project Joe Blanton
When Manager Joe Maddon joined the Cubs before the season, he promised fans a postseason appearance. Most people thought he was nuts, but he proved true to his word, repeating with the Cubs the trick he had pulled with the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, that is to turn a bunch of extremely talented but inexperienced youngsters who had never won anything into a very dangerous team. On the offensive side, it was a tale of three rookies and one veteran, 1B Anthony Rizzo who led the team with 31 homers and 101 RBIs. The rookies were 3B Kris Bryant who hit 26 homers, drove in 99 runs but also led the National League with 199 strikeouts, 2B Addison Russell, another free swinger with a powerful swing from the bottom of the order, and C/OF Kyle Schwarber, with 16 homers and 43 RBIs in only 69 games. All three had started the year in the minors, but had been solid once promoted to the Show. Rounding out the lineup were C Miguel Montero, CF Dexter Fowler and LF Chris Coghlan, three dependable veterans acquired from other teams, SS Starlin Castro, once considered the Cubs' future superstar, now merely a solid contributor although his lack of walks was an issue, and second-year man Jorge Soler in right field. Jake Arrieta had been otherworldly in the second half, ending up at 22-6, 1.77 with 236 Ks and a no-hitter to his credit. Hector Rondon had turned into a dependable closer, with 30 saves and a 1.67 ERA, but his support staff in the bullpen was a lot more shaky than the Pirates'.
- Jeff Nelson, Hunter Wendelstedt, John Hirschbeck (crew chief), Jim Reynolds, Mike Estabrook and Cory Blaser
|1||Chicago Cubs 4 Pittsburgh Pirates 0||October 7||Jake Arrieta (1-0) Gerrit Cole (0-1)||8:00 pm|
Game 1 @ PNC Park
|WP: Jake Arrieta (1-0), LP: Gerrit Cole (0-1)|
|Home Runs: CHI - Kyle Schwarber (1); Dexter Fowler (1)|
- Attendance: 40,889
The Chicago Cubs were confident heading into the Wild Card Game, even though they were playing on the road at PNC Park, because they had their ace, Jake Arrieta on the mound, and he had been pitching lights out for the past two months. The Pittsburgh Pirates also had their ace starting in Gerrit Cole, but he had lost a September 27th match-up with Arrieta. In fact, the Bucs had been dreading this match-up and wanted to avoid it at all costs, but in spite of their best efforts down the stretch, had been unable to catch the first-place St. Louis Cardinals, finishing two games back in spite of logging 98 wins. Their strategy now was simple: try to keep the Cubs off the scoreboard and somehow scrape up a run against Arrieta; for the Cubs, they knew that getting just a couple of scores should be enough.
The Cubs got to work immediately against Cole in the 1st inning. CF Dexter Fowler led off the game with a line drive single to center, then stole second base. Kyle Schwarber, starting in right field in place of Jorge Soler, followed with a single to left and the speedy Fowler came around to score, and just like that the record crowd of almost 41,000 was deflated. Cole got LF Kris Bryant to ground into a double play, but 2B Neil Walker threw wildly to allow 1B Anthony Rizzo to reach. Tommy La Stella, a surprise starter at third base, then struck out, but the dice were cast. CF Andrew McCutchen managed a two-out single off Arrieta in the bottom of the 1st, but LF Starling Marte struck out for the third out.
After a quiet 2nd inning, the Cubs struck again in the 3rd, and this time it really hurt. Arrieta struck out to lead off the inning, but Fowler followed with a single to right and Schwarber then crushed one of Cole's pitches for a long homer to right field and a 3-0 lead. A shaken Cole walked Bryant, but Rizzo grounded into a double play to limit the damage. However, that lead was more than enough for Arrieta, He struck out the side in the bottom of the 3rd and again got the Pirates out in order in the 4th. In the 5th, Fowler was at it again, after Arrieta struck out once more as the lead-off batter; he homered to right-center on a 2-2 count, and it was all over but the shouting. Antonio Bastardo took over for Cole in the top of the 6th and while a quartet of Pirates relievers, each pitching one inning, was able to keep the Cubs from adding any more to their lead, it was not enough.
The Pirates had their best chance to get back into the game in the 6th. Travis Snider, pinch-hitting for Bastardo, led off the inning with a single to right, and after one out, 3B Josh Harrison was hit by a pitch. McCutchen then hit a ball to SS Addison Russell, but he rushed in an attempt to start a double play, bobbled the ball and everyone was safe. Marte came up to bat, but he also grounded to Russell, and this time the rookie infielder handled the ball cleanly, starting an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play. In the 7th, there was a little excitement when with two outs, Tony Watson plunked Arrieta with a pitch. It was apparently not innocuous as Arrieta had already hit a couple of batters himself, and both benches emptied. Sean Rodriguez was ejected, but he was already out of the game after starting the game at first base and being replaced by pinch-hitter Pedro Alvarez when his turn to bat had come up in the 3rd, in a ploy to give the Bucs better infield defense in the early innings. Arrieta then replied by stealing second base but Fowler flied out to center to end the inning. Arrieta gave up a lead-off single to C Francisco Cervelli in the bottom of the 7th, but this time PH Aramis Ramirez obligingly grounded into a double play. The last two innings were largely uneventful. PH Michael Morse got the Bucs' last hit of the game in the 8th, another single, but he was stranded and manager Joe Maddon let his ace finish the job in the 9th. Arrieta got McCutchen and Marte to ground out and Cervelli to line out to second base and the Cubs were 4-0 winners. For the Pirates, it was the second straight year they were shut out at home in the Wild Card Game by the hottest pitcher around - Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants had turned the trick a year earlier - and they were left to moan a wonderful season ending in a flash.
"Sports is hard. Life's not fair. You go out and play. You get beat, you move on. I thanked the guys for the incredible ride they took the coaching staff, the support staff, everybody in that clubhouse on this year." - Clint Hurdle
- Ted Berg: "5 things to watch in the Cubs-Pirates NL Wild Card game", For the Win, USA Today Sports, October 6, 2015. 
- Tom Singer and Carrie Muskat: "Arrieta, Cubs ace Wild Card test vs. Bucs", mlb.com, October 7, 2015. 
|Major League Baseball Wild Card Game|