Cubs to meet Pirates in NL Wild Card Game

Cubs to meet Pirates in NL Wild Card Game

CINCINNATI -- At least now the Cubs know for certain who they'll be playing on Oct. 7 in the National League Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser.

With the Cardinals' win Wednesday over the Pirates in the second game of a doubleheader, St. Louis clinched the NL Central Division, which means it'll be Pittsburgh versus Chicago in the Wild Card Game, though the location is yet to be determined.

The Cubs, who were 2 1/2 games back of Pittsburgh after Wednesday's 10-3 win over the Reds, have secured their first appearance in the postseason since 2008. This is the 17th season they've advanced to the postseason.

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The Cubs have reached at least 90 wins in a season for the 23rd time in franchise history, and for the first time since going 97-64 in 2008. They went 11-8 against the Pirates this season, going 5-4 at Wrigley Field.

Jake Arrieta will start the Wild Card Game for the Cubs, and he's had success against the Pirates as well this season, posting a 3-1 record and 0.75 ERA, giving up three earned runs over 36 innings. His outings included seven shutout innings on Sept. 27 at Wrigley Field. Arrieta has limited the Pirates to a .151 batting average and a .209 batting average of balls in play. All five starts have been quality starts.

The Pirates are expected to start right-hander Gerrit Cole, who won the first game of Wednesday's doubleheader vs. the Cards. In four starts against the Cubs this season, Cole is 2-1 with a 2.13 ERA, and stymied them at Wrigley Field in the last meeting on Sept. 25, giving up one run over seven innings. He's held the Cubs to a .225 average, striking out 32 over 25 1/3 innings.

Cole strikes out eight in win

The only Cub on the roster who has homered against Cole is Javier Baez. Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo are both 6-for-17 (.353) against the right-hander, while Kris Bryant is 3-for-9 with six strikeouts.

The 2015 season was projected as another development year for the Cubs, who have relied on young talent.

"For me, personally, I thought next year," Castro said. "[I thought] we'll be all right this year, and the next year, we'll be great. You see how fast it was. Now we can compete with whatever team. We're good already. We're good right now. We have to keep the team like that and keep winning games."

Jon Lester, who signed a six-year deal with the Cubs in December, said he told team president of baseball operations Theo Epstein that he wanted to compete this season.

"I wanted to make sure we're going to be contenders," Lester said of his talk with Epstein. "I wanted to make sure we're going to be somewhat in this thing. I didn't want to be in last place and have to deal with that. To expect 93 wins, I don't think anybody did. I don't think the front office or the fans or [the media] believed that we could do 93 wins. I think we've surprised probably ourselves a little bit, and the people around us.

"The talent, that's what sold me on being here," Lester said. "The talent is here. ... These guys have done a great job, from the youngest to the oldest to the guys in between, of being ready every single day and being ready to perform, and I think it shows."

Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday they are still finalizing the postseason roster, which does not have to be determined until the day of the game.

"At the end of the day, it's about starting pitching and catching the ball," Maddon said.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.