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Gerrit Cole, streaking Pirates loom in playoffs

The Cubs earned their celebration Saturday. Instead of just showing improvement, the young team matured into one of the best clubs in baseball that could make a long run in the playoffs.

That is, if they get past the wild-card game where they’ll likely face Gerrit Cole and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Pirates entered Sunday three games behind St. Louis for the division lead. If they don’t track down the Cardinals, they’ll host the Cubs in the one-game playoff Oct. 7 and probably start Cole, who’s 18-8 with a 2.60 earned-run average.

Though Cole looms dangerously in the Cubs’ near future, he doesn’t exactly put off the vibe of a villainous opponent from a cheesy baseball movie. He’s polite and soft-spoken, and talks earnestly about his accomplishments this season despite affirming his place as one of the best pitchers in the game.

“That I’ve been able to contribute and put us in a good spot to win on a fairly consistent (basis) throughout the whole year,” Cole said when he was what he’s most proud of this year.

With good reason, the Cubs have reason to feel confident heading into that game. Jake Arrieta is a Cy Young candidate and has jumped from a good pitcher to one of the best in baseball, and the Cubs took the season series from the Pirates.

Pittsburgh, however, isn’t bad. The Pirates entered Sunday riding an eight-game winning streak to get a season-high 35 games above .500 and were an MLB-best 82-44 since May 9, justifying any confidence they might have.

“(The confidence is) pretty high but it’s a respectful confidence,” Cole said. “It’s a cautious confidence. I think we understand there’s a lot of factors that you can’t control and there’s a lot of good teams out there. We try to focus on ourselves and we obviously think we can execute and have confidence in ourselves to do what we need to do to win the ballgame. It’s not easy.”

Beating Cole and the Pirates won’t be easy for the Cubs early next month. They saw that again Friday when he allowed one run in seven strong innings to delay the Cubs’ clinching party, and also improve to 2-1 with a 2.13 ERA over four starts against them this season.

On Friday, Chris Denorfia said it “absolutely” helped to see Cole so close to the playoffs.

“The more reps you get against anybody hopefully the more comfortable everybody gets,” Denorfia said. “But he’s a great starter and he’s got good stuff and he had his good stuff (Friday). If it does come down to him we’re going to have to bring our ‘A’ game for sure.”