McKnight: Cubs know what to plan for

 
Updated 10/4/2015 7:35 PM

And so the Cubs head to Pittsburgh.

Even as home field for the NL wild-card game was up for grabs until the final pitch of the Pittsburgh Pirates' regular season, a few key elements concerning Wednesday night's game came into focus over the last two days of the year.

 

To the surprise of absolutely no one, the Pirates announced Saturday that Gerrit Cole will get the start. Cole's August wasn't the best month of his season, but the fact that he posted a 3.13 ERA in those 6 starts only speaks to how good he has been the rest of the year.

What's incredible about his year is the way he has been able to knock the bat out of hitters' hands. He has given up just 11 home runs in his 208 innings. His HR/9 rate of .48 is fourth best among qualified pitchers. It's better than Clayton Kershaw (.59) and Zack Greinke (.55).

It is not, however, better than Jake Arrieta. He leads the league at .39 -- which is simply ridiculous.

Of the Cubs' regulars, only Javier Baez has homered off Cole but it's the only hit Baez has registered against the Pittsburgh ace in 6 at-bats. That's not to say he's the only Cub who has gotten to Cole.

NL MVP candidate Anthony Rizzo is 6/17 with a .862 SLG against Cole over the course of his career. Starlin Castro holds the same 6/17 mark in his.

Cubs rookie Kyle Schwarber hasn't had a great go against Cole (just 1-for-5 this year), but it sounds as if Joe Maddon will get him in the lineup regardless. Schwarber has far better numbers against right-handers (.282/.397/.491) than left-handers (.143/.213/.268).

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Schwarber might have a tougher task than just hitting Cole, however. Maddon has hinted at having Schwarber play right field in PNC Park. The thought there may be that Schwarber, whose experience in right adds up to exactly 14 innings this year, would be better off with a shorter and smaller right field than dealing with cavernous left field.

At PNC, right field is cut down some by the out-of-town scoreboard, while center and left combine to make Yellowstone look tiny.

With Castro likely to get the start at second base it leaves a few options for right field. Chris Coghlan ended the season on a bit of a hot streak, but he's just 2-for-13 against Cole.

Austin Jackson closed the year with a good week but has never faced Cole. Also, Jackson doesn't have the platoon advantage. Coghlan does.

Don't count out Jorge Soler even if he doesn't figure to start. Maddon will be liberal in his deployment of pinch hitters -- after all, it's the Cubs' versatility that has been as much a weapon as anything these past two months.

Their biggest and best weapon is where their hope lies. Arrieta carries the season on his shoulders Wednesday, and the world will be watching.

• Connor McKnight can be heard regularly on WGN 720-AM and is a co-host of The Beat, the station's sports talk show on the weekends. Follow him on Twitter @McKnight_WGN

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