Approach against Arrieta
The Pirates have built a reputation for finding hidden inefficiencies and small advantages. As they prepare for the daunting task of facing Jake Arrieta in a do-or-die game, they're acting like they've discovered a vulnerability no one else has been able to find.
"I'm just going to have to go with no comment on that," Josh Harrison said with a knowing grin, when asked if he noticed Arrieta changing up his approach against him. "Maybe I do, maybe I don't. We'll have to see."
Neal Walker was equally coy. After explaining that the Cubs' right-hander is especially difficult to face because of the many pitch sequences he can deploy, Walker quipped, "There are some things I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you."
Jordy Mercer wasn't terribly convincing when he claimed not to have really thought about his approach against Arrieta tomorrow. "I don't know," he said. "That's a good question."
Of course, the Pirates could be engaging in some gamesmanship here. By publicly hinting they've figured something out, they may be hoping to throw Arrieta off his game. Clearly, it's to the their advantage to get the right-hander to change, second-guess, or believe the Pirates have discovered something in his approach.
For his part, Arrieta did a good job planting the seeds of doubt in the other direction. He spent a good portion of his presser talking about pitch patterns being the key to facing a team that's seen him quite a few times before.
"Sequencing is a really big factor in preparing for a team that you've faced several times," Arrieta said. "For me, at the end of the day, I feel like if I execute, regardless if I were to use the same sequencing as I have in the past against these guys, I still feel confident in my ability to have success."
Although he struck a much different tone at PNC Park than he's displayed on Twitter recently, Arrieta expressed a great deal of comfort in the tactical approach he'll deploy Wednesday night.
"I feel confident that I can neutralize a lot of their power, a lot of their speed guys with different sequences," he said.
Oh, and about those tweets: Arrieta said they were delivered in the spirit of "good fun."
"I don't mean anything negative towards anybody." Arrieta said. "It's just kind of the buildup to the game. I think it's just kind of a unique way to start interaction within the fan bases or with the players and the fans. So it's something I kind of like to do."
Finally, Clint Hurdle added to the intrigue by suggesting the Pirates might try some new things against Arrieta tomorrow.
"The things we've tried in the past, not too many of them have worked, so maybe we'll try something different," Hurdle said. "We're going to have to make some adjustments."
Tactically, the Pirates manager hinted that the running game may figure into the offensive attack more than usual.
"I think we need to be open-minded and need to be looking forward to taking every opportunity you can when you get somebody on base to move them and score them," Hurdle said.
Neither manager revealed their lineups or rosters for Wednesday. However, Hurdle's comments may contain some clues:
As expected, the Pirates will likely carry three catchers on their roster.
"It's not like you can go get a third experienced catcher right now," Hurdle said. "You have who you have, and I do think from our standpoint, we've carried a third catcher the past two years, so I don't anticipate any changes along those lines."
Based largely on his recent hot streak, it appears that Harrison has a very good chance of getting the nod at third base.
"He's got the highest OPS against right-handed pitching in the last two weeks, almost a month," Hurdle said. "I can give you all kinds of numbers. You look at our roster in there, he's our hottest hitter, so how does that play? You'll all find out real soon."
The situation at first, however, is still murky as ever. Joking that he's "gained 15 pounds looking at pie charts the last two days," Hurdle would only say that lineup decisions will come down to weighing "strengths versus challenges."
"So I've got a lineup in mind that's been taken care of," Hurdle said. "My mind has been made up and set and we're moving forward, and we'll share that with you at an appropriate time."
I asked Keon Broxton if he knew whether he'd be on the active roster tomorrow and he simply smiled and said, "I'll be here tomorrow. Other than that I don't know."
Odds and Ends
-P- Gerrit Cole is OK with Alvarez starting at first Wednesday. After describing Alvarez as a "fine" first baseman, He said: "I love having him in the lineup. He tends to hit a lot of home runs when I pitch."
-P- Cole's embracing a take-no-prisoners mindset into tomorrow's start: "I mean, you get in a situation where your back up against the wall and you don't have any other option than to come out swinging."
-P- Joe Maddon wants his guys loose tomorrow.
"Go out and play, man," Maddon said. "You've been playing all year. We won 97, they won 98. Neither one of us can believe we're in the Wild Card game."
Keeping his team loose is an art he learned from coaches he didn't want to emulate.
"I mean, seriously, the guys that you never want to be like who you learn most from," Maddon said. "And a lot of that had to do with tightness or trying to do things differently or getting angry and becoming punitive when things weren't working well. I don't understand that method of thinking."
-P- Speaking of loose, Hurdle was downright jocular during his meeting with the press. Besides joking that he gained weight from reading pie charts, he wondered aloud if the press was paying attention. Responding to a question about Cervelli's durability, Hurdle said, "I think he's caught the second most games in Major League Baseball: Am I off base there? Does anybody know, anybody care? Anybody paying attention?"
Hurdle also gained a few laughs when he mentioned that he was happy to see Madison Bumgarner dominate throughout the postseason last year.
"I was glad everybody got what we got," Hurdle said. "Well, because we got shot down pretty quick, and everybody threw their hands up in the air and said, Well, that's it for the Pirates. That's all they've got. Everybody got some of that. That was a lot. So I was glad everybody got it, truthfully."