A lot has changed for the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates since the clubs met in the National League wild-card game on Oct. 7, 2015.
That was when eventual Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta twirled a five-hit shutout to lead the resurgent Cubs past the Pirates in a battle of teams that combined to win 195 regular-season games.
On Saturday afternoon, Arrieta will begin a second and likely more modest act in Chicago when he is scheduled to take the mound for the Cubs against the rebuilding Pirates in the second game of the season for both teams.
Both teams were off Friday after the Pirates earned a 5-3 victory Thursday, when rookie Ke’Bryan Hayes hit a two-run homer in the first inning and seven Pittsburgh pitchers combined on a two-hitter.
Arrieta (4-4, 5.08 ERA in 2020) is slated to oppose left-hander Tyler Anderson (4-3, 4.37 ERA) in a duel of pitchers who changed teams over the winter. Arrieta was with the Philadelphia Phillies, while Anderson pitched for the San Francisco Giants.
The win in the 2015 wild card game was the first playoff victory in 12 years for the Cubs, who reached the NL Championship Series before finally snapping the most famous championship drought in sports in 2016. That was when Chicago won its first title in 108 years by outlasting the Cleveland Indians in a seven-game World Series.
Arrieta went 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA in 2016 but has struggled in the four subsequent seasons, a span in which he went 36-33 with a 4.09 ERA for the Cubs and Phillies while battling knee, elbow and hamstring injuries and a resulting breakdown in his delivery.
Arrieta signed a one-year deal with the Cubs, that has an option for 2022, in hopes his familiarity with the club and manager David Ross, who was Chicago’s backup catcher in 2016, would help him regain his old form. The right-hander posted a 4.08 ERA and struck out 14 batters while walking five over 17 2/3 innings in five Cactus League starts.
“I know it was going to be a difficult beginning of the spring,” Arrieta said following his final spring training start Sunday. “Very fortunate for the support system that I have here. I love where I’m at. We’ve made tremendous strides.”
The wild-card game loss was something of a last gasp for the Pirates, who won 98 games while making the playoffs for a third straight season in 2015 but have finished over .500 just once in the last five years. Pittsburgh finished 19-41 in 2020, which was a 111-loss pace over 162 games.
The rebuild continued over the winter for the Pirates, who traded former All-Star Josh Bell to the Washington Nationals and dealt starting pitchers Joe Musgrove and Jameson Taillon to the San Diego Padres and New York Yankees, respectively.
Pittsburgh signed just two free agents to major league deals: Anderson and swingman Trevor Cahill, who also was with the Giants last season.
While Anderson is the Pirates’ highest-paid starter at $2.5 million, and is coming off a season when he tossed one complete game and pitched into the sixth inning three times in his other 10 starts, the Opening Day win likely provided a glimpse at how Pittsburgh will try to piece together games this season.
“They did a nice job,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said of the six relievers who pitched Thursday, following three innings from starter Chad Kuhl. “They kind of all just fed off each other.”
Arrieta is 12-6 with a 2.93 ERA in 23 regular season starts against the Pirates. Anderson is 2-0 with a 4.05 ERA in three career starts against the Cubs.
–Field Level Media