Like you and I, the Cardinals will be sitting at home Wednesday night as the Pirates and Cubs duel to the (playoff) death, with the winner coming to St. Louis on Friday. As Cardinals fans, it's a game that doesn't involve our team, but has huge ramifications for our team. So who should we root for?
It's important to stipulate up front that it probably doesn't matter. Both teams are ridiculously good and, as one of VEB's most handsome writers noted last week, all playoff series are more or less a toss-up. But with that in mind, is there anything in the numbers or even in the ether that would make one opponent preferable to the other?
The Cardinals went 11-8 vs. the Cubs, 10-9 vs. the Pirates. So there's not much to separate them in the overall record. In the second half, however, the Cards maintained a 5-4 advantage over the Pirates, while they racked up just a 2-5 record against the Cubs. File that under small sample size or Cubs surge/Cardinals collapse, however you see fit.
Home/road splits - especially for a single season - strike me as not particularly meaningful. On the other hand, maybe some guys just really hate playing in a particular city, and the hotel they always stay at is kind of crappy, like where they say the complimentary breakfast will include "made-to-order" eggs, but then it's always just the powdered ones. Ugh. The worst. Anyway, if you buy into home/road splits, the Cards held a fairly strong 7-3 advantage over the Cubs at Busch this year, and a 6-3 record vs. the Buccos.
Obviously, the OTHER great advantage of not playing in the Wild Card game is that the Cubs and Pirates will both have to burn their #1 with a bullet aces, Gerrit Cole and Jake Arrieta. But the other guys in the respective rotations are no slouches, either.
Assuming Pittsburgh goes with Liriano, Happ and Burnett behind Cole, all three have posted relatively similar numbers overall this season. Happ has posted the highest FIP at 3.41, but that's still well better than the league average of 3.96. Burnett, however, has fallen off mightily in the 2nd half, posting an ugly 4.79 FIP and 6.04 ERA.
Chicago, on the other hand, features a #2 pitcher in Jon Lester who also fits into the "bona-fide ace" mold. Kyle Hendricks has likewise been solid, but potential Game 3 starters Jason Hammel and Dan Haren have both posted ugly results in the second half.
The Cardinals splits against lefties this year have not been good. They've hit at a lower clip across the slashlines, tallying an OPS 74 points worse than vs. righties. With two lefties in their likely rotation, the Pirates are better positioned to capitalize on this weakness.
The Emotional Side
Enough of this numbers crap. Let's talk about our feelings!
Will Leitch wrote a great article on this very topic, and I can't dispute his conclusions. The rise of the Pirates has been a great story these past few seasons, and disappointing as it would be for a great Cardinals team not to advance, it would be fairly easy to get on the Buccos bandwagon.
The Cubs, on the other hand...
I used to feel like I would welcome and celebrate a Cubs World Series victory, and relish seeing such a historic milestone. But somewhere between Alex Gibney's Catching Hell documentary and the We Are Good hashtag, that goodwill evaporated. Or maybe it had to do with seeing how fast Red Sox fans could go from endearing to insufferable. But the bottom line is this: I want the Cubs to lose.
Were the Cubs to eliminate the Cardinals in the Division Series, we would never hear the end of it. Imagine a volcano that erupts only once every 10,000 years - that is the level of molten bile we would see bubble to the surface. And sure, they're entitled to it, but That Doesn't Mean I Want It To Happen.
Ah, but here's the rub... do we want to see the Cubs eliminated by the Pirates or by the Cardinals?
This is a very interesting psychological question. If the Pirates eliminate the Cubs, it's all over and done, and we don't move any closer to The Monster at the End of this Book. However, the euphoria of a Cards win/Cubs lose speedball would make for a much more intense high.
Psychological research shows that the greater the risk/reward of a given situation, the more dopamine is released into the brain. The added history of rivalry to those early 2000s Red Sox/Yankees series certainly made for some added drama. Whether you want to see that kind of excitement in your life probably tells us a lot about you and allows computers to better match you with potential mates.
As for me... I don't know. I just want the Cardinals to face whoever will be easier to beat, and I honestly don't know who that will be. If you held a gun to my head, given how scary the Cubs looked in some of those blowouts late in the season, I'd probably have to say I'd prefer to face the Pirates.
How about you? Who'dya rather?