Yesterday, Clint Hurdle said that he had spent the last two days poring over pie charts. Analytics, not gut, were going to inform his lineup decisions. "I think what you do is drill down to the facts," Hurdle said.
This afternoon the Pirates' manager released a lineup that sends as clear a message as can be sent: The club believes that as long as Jake Arrieta is on the mound, Aramis Ramirez and Pedro Alvarez don't increase the chances of scoring as much as their defense could increase the Cubs' chances of doing so.
"So you want to hope on guys getting hits and then hoping that maybe not a lot of balls are hit to [them]?" Hurdle asked rhetorically about starting Ramirez and Alvarez. "I wanted to make sure we gave Gerrit [Cole] every opportunity to have the best defensive metrics behind him."
The decision is controversial, but you can see the game plan that underlies it. The Pirates want, or perhaps need, to get to the later innings with the game close. At that point, they gain the advantage. They'll have the shutdown bullpen and power bats on the bench. If the game is close, the pressure turns up on Joe Maddon, as he'll have to make a decision when to pinch hit for Arrieta and in effect give the Pirates precisely what they want. It's a risky and interesting plan, and certainly one that will be fodder for debate over the winter if it doesn't work.
As you'd expect, Hurdle appeared completely at ease and comfortable with his decision. He began his press conference by joking, "Did anybody win the lineup pool?"
He waited as only a few arms were raised.
"I like the fact that there are only three of us thinking the same way," he said.
The decision to start Sean Rodriguez over Alvarez may have ramifications down the road in what is already a seemingly strained relationship between Alvarez and the club. But none of that matters now, and it shouldn't.
"No, it wasn't easy, and no, I didn't agonize," Hurdle said of his decision.
For their part, the Cubs' lineup is interesting as well. They're tacking in the opposite direction. With Kyle Schwarber starting in right field, Kris Bryant in left and Tommy La Stella at third, the Cubs are counting on Arrieta inducing light contact and increasing their odds to score early runs by loading up on the offensive side.
"With Jake pitching, we looked at where they are likely to hit the ball," Maddon said. "Matching up against Cole, this is our best offensive lineup.
So, the Pirates have made their move. They're playing to win a tight game, where their runs are more likely to come via small ball and the running game rather than loud, sudden blasts. The thinking is conservative, perhaps, but given the matchups and a one-and-done scenario, it's reasonable. The Cubs, on the other hand, are looking to strike quickly against Cole with their best offensive options on in the lineup.
As the game gets to the late innings, the Pirates will have offense in reserve and the Cubs will have defense.
"Really, it's late baseball like this, fall baseball, it's all about pitching and defense for me," Hurdle said. "We're putting our best pitcher on the mound, want to put our best defensive team behind him and find a way to scratch out one more run than the other team."