Intrigue? Drama? Danger?
It’s all just projections and building tension for now. But take a look at the Pirates and Giants this week during the Cubs’ wild-card homestand.
As the Cubs close in on their first division championship in eight years and chase gaudy win-loss totals, their first real test in the next six weeks could be a replay of one of this week’s series or the other in a five-game division series against the wild-card game survivor.
And it might even prove the most daunting series of any they’ll face in October – home field, best record, well rested pitching and all.
“It’s black and white for me why it’s scary,” said Giants pitcher Jake Peavy, who should know. “It’s scary because you have a team that just played down to mostly the last day or two of the season, and they’ve been playing playoff-type baseball games every night for some time.
“And then you get thrust into a Game 7,” Peavy said. “Whatever you want to call that [wild-card] game, it’s a Game 7. Game 1 of the NLDS certainly is not the same feeling for the other team. The other team’s been waiting to play. Those jitters aren’t out of the way, where this team has just played Game 7 and is very comfortable, and now they’re playing loose, and, `Hey, we have nothing to lose.’ “
Peavy’s Giants were that team in 2014, surviving the Pirates in the wild-card game that year – before Peavy opened the National League Division Series with a victory over Washington’s Stephen Strasburg on the Giants’ way to their third World Series title in five years.
What’s more, the Cubs were that team last year, the final NL playoff qualifier, who beat the Pirates in the wild card, then knocked out the 100-win Cardinals in the NLDS.
“We’re aware that if Pittsburgh or San Francisco comes out of that and we end up playing one of those two teams that it’s not going to be a rollover series,” said Jake Arrieta, who beat the Pirates in Pittsburgh last October – and who had a rough outing against the same team Monday night before the Cubs came back to win in 13 innings.
“Or whoever it is,” said Arrieta, who stressed the Cubs still have to finish off the division. “We’ve played everybody well, and we know that we can take care of our business with whoever we play. But you still have to go out and play the games and you have to prepare and do a lot of things really well to get past teams like the Cardinals, the Giants or Pittsburgh.”
The Giants and Cardinals are in the two wild-card positions with just more than a month to play, and the Cubs have losing records against both so far (albeit, facing the Giants in just one series so far). The Pirates – who have played in the last three NL wild-card games — entered Tuesday’s game just 1½ games behind the Cards.
“Emotions change [from] the regular season,” said Giants outfielder Hunter Pence, a member of the 2012 and ’14 champs. “And a lot of times it’s harder to be the team that had the best record in the regular season because there’s more on the line to lose. It’s like you’re expected to win, and it’s a different vibe than being the underdog playing free.”
Giants first baseman Brandon Belt on opening the NLDS off a wild-card win: “It gives you momentum you might not have otherwise.”
“It’s not going to be easy, and no one in here thinks that,” said Arrieta, whose Cubs would have four days off before Game 1 on Oct. 7. “But if we keep doing what we’re doing now in the regular season, and we keep the guys healthy that are in this clubhouse right now, we’re going to be in really good shape.”