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Cubs Pirates Pick – Wild Card Game

The playoffs, or “play-in” roll on tonight, and there have never been two better teams with more on the line in the opening game since baseball expanded the playoff format. The 98-win Pirates and 97-win Cubs easily total the most wins of any two wildcard combatants, and while it makes for fantastic television, it seems to make for an unfairly early exit for tonight’s loser.

Speaking of early exits and “loser” I am sure that label will be applied to Alex Rodriguez this morning. And to be fair, he DID have one major opportunity to change his team’s fate last night and was unable to come through. But for counter-perspective, the team as a whole managed just three hits and looking at the season in its entirety, it is hard to argue the aging Yankees didn’t wildly exceed expectations. And for the polarizing Mr. Rodriguez, if someone told you the 41-year old would return from a year-plus hiatus with 33 homeruns and close to 80 RBI, I am pretty sure you’d have laughed.  As much as the many detractors will loathe to admit, he had a helluva season.

Either way, the Yankees will head home and the young Astros will get a chance to enjoy the national spotlight for the first time in nearly a decade in Kansas City tomorrow night.   One more team will punch a similar ticket tonight…

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Today’s Free Pick:

Chicago Cubs -130 at Pittsburgh Pirates +120 (Total: 5.5)

Jake Arrieta vs. Gerrit Cole

Man, this game is so amazing it really tragic that this is just a one-game series. I’d like to watch these two teams play five, but as it stands, if we are going out fast, we might as well do it with a pair of dueling aces and two of the best pitchers in baseball.

Arrieta’s resume is self-explanatory. The Cub hurler is fresh off the BEST 20-game closing stretch in the HISTORY of baseball. Like in over 140 years NO ONE has done what Jake Arrieta just did. Wrap your head around that for a second. A guy casual fans had scarcely heard of 18 months ago has been the best pitcher ever to walk the planet Earth of the last four months. His 0.41 ERA is staggering and the fact that he has won 8 of 9 starts against Pittsburgh is cause for even more optimism. So is the fact that he has not allowed a run in his last three starts, striking out 27 batters and walking one. 27 to 1…

Completely overlooked and largely ignored is Gerrit Cole, a guy who would have a decent Cy Young case in normal years. Cole finished the year 19-8 with a 2.60 ERA and the unquestioned ace on the second best team in baseball. The former number one pick has been groomed for this moment his entire life, as opposed to the 29-year old Arrieta who defies logic. I’m not saying that gives Cole an edge, but we have seen his home field rattle wildcard visitors (Cueeeeee-tooooo!) in the past, an obstacle that will obviously NOT be there for Cole.

So, does the fact that this is the Pirates third straight wildcard appearance provide an edge? Well, they’ve faced the pressure before and won. And lost. They famously rattled Cueto in 2013. They were Mad Bum-rushed out of the playoffs in 2014. So what happens tonight?

I think Cole will pitch well, and that the Pirates will play well. But Arrieta is on a run the likes of which we have NEVER seen before in baseball history. It feels like betting against him now would be predicated only on assuming his psyche is fragile enough to be rattled by the moment. None of us can possibly know that, except maybe for Jake – who has been tweaking Pirate fans on Twitter and appears as loose and confident as someone with his current performance ought to be. So I’ll stick with the data; Arrieta being unhittable, and therefore take the Cubbies to advance.

For the record, I have no objection to taking BOTH of these teams today on World Series future odds. The Cubs and Pirates are BOTH around 12/1, a number that will certainly be cut nearly in half after today’s winner emerges. Both have the rosters to win the whole thing. But for tonight, I’ll stick with Arrieta and the young Cubbies getting him JUST enough run support to win.

Free Pick: Chicago Cubs to WIN -130