The Chicago Cubs are moving closer to the off-season, and after losing on Sunday, they’ll look to get back on the horse when facing the Pittsburgh Pirates tonight and the San Francisco Giants on Thursday. Cubs pitcher gave up three runs on five hits in throwing only 39 pitches on Saturday in their 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, so Chicago is moving Jason Hammel up one day in the rotation to start instead tonight against Pittsburgh to try to get their game on track.
The Cubs will be at home in Wednesday’s game, but they’ll also play host in another series with a NL Wild card contender: The San Francisco Giants. They currently lead the wild card standings, and will visit Wrigley Fielder for a four-game series that the Cubs will have to win if they want to make gains.
Right now, it’s the toughest part of the season because everyone is just making projections and so the tension keeps on building for now. It should be able to be cut with a knife in a week where the Pirates and Giants visit during the Cubs’ wild-card homestand.
The Cubs know that they are closing in on their first division championship in eight years, and are in the midst of chasing win-loss totals. This series against the Giants will be the first real test to kick off the next six weeks, and could replay out as one of this week’s series or the other in a five-game division match up against the wild-card game survivor. So they must get to know these enemies well.
There’s a lot a stake, and might prove daunting of any series they could face in October, since home field, best record, and well rested pitching will all be determined by their play now.
“It’s black and white for me why it’s scary,” said Giants pitcher Jake Peavy, who should know. “It’s scary because you have a team that just played down to mostly the last day or two of the season, and they’ve been playing playoff-type baseball games every night for some time.
“And then you get thrust into a Game 7,” Peavy said. “Whatever you want to call that [wild-card] game, it’s a Game 7. Game 1 of the NLDS certainly is not the same feeling for the other team. The other team’s been waiting to play. Those jitters aren’t out of the way, where this team has just played Game 7 and is very comfortable, and now they’re playing loose, and, `Hey, we have nothing to lose.’ “
Strangely enough, Peavy’s Giants were a similarly fated team in 2014, since they survived the Pirates in what most called ‘the wild-card game the year’ – before Peavy opened the National League Division Series with a victory over Washington’s Stephen Strasburg on the Giants’ way to their third World Series title in five years.
What’s even more fitting is that the Cubs were that team last year, as the final NL playoff qualifier, who beat the Pirates in the wild card game, then knocked out the 100-win Cardinals in the NLDS.
“We’re aware that if Pittsburgh or San Francisco comes out of that and we end up playing one of those two teams that it’s not going to be a rollover series,” said Jake Arrieta, who beat the Pirates in Pittsburgh last October – and who had a rough outing against the same team Monday night before the Cubs came back to win in 13 innings.
“Or whoever it is,” said Arrieta, who stressed the Cubs still have to finish off the division. “We’ve played everybody well, and we know that we can take care of our business with whoever we play. But you still have to go out and play the games and you have to prepare and do a lot of things really well to get past teams like the Cardinals, the Giants or Pittsburgh.”
As of today, the Giants and Cardinals are holding the two wild-card positions with just a little more than a month to play, and the Cubs have losing records against both those teams so far (despite just facing the Giants in only one series so far). The Pirates, a strong team who played in the last three NL wild-card games going into Wednesday’s game are just 1½ games behind the Cardinals. So the race is not just tight, it’s suffocating.
“Emotions change [from] the regular season,” said Giants outfielder Hunter Pence, a member of the 2012 and ’14 champions. “And a lot of times it’s harder to be the team that had the best record in the regular season because there’s more on the line to lose. It’s like you’re expected to win, and it’s a different vibe than being the underdog playing free.”
Giants first baseman Brandon Belt spoke to media on opening the NLDS off a wild-card win: “It gives you momentum you might not have otherwise.”
“It’s not going to be easy, and no one in here thinks that,” said Jake Arrieta, whose Cubs will have four days off before Game 1 on Oct. 7. “But if we keep doing what we’re doing now in the regular season, and we keep the guys healthy that are in this clubhouse right now, we’re going to be in really good shape.”
We agree and bet on them to dominate this series.