MILWAUKEE -- The top road team in the National League has to pack for at least one more trip. The Cubs are headed to Pittsburgh to face the Pirates on Wednesday in the National League Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser, live on TBS at 7 p.m. CT.
Chicago, which defeated Milwaukee, 3-1, in Sunday's season finale, began the day one game behind Pittsburgh in the NL Wild Card standings, and the Pirates needed to beat the Reds in the regular season finale to secure the home field, which they did, 4-0. On Wednesday, it'll be 22-game-winner Jake Arrieta against the Pirates' Gerrit Cole, although Arrieta won't mind the road trip. He's 13-1 with a 1.60 ERA away from home.
"It's kind of exciting -- it's leave it all out there, one game," catcher David Ross said of the Wild Card format. "We don't get that atmosphere a whole lot, so it's definitely different than the norm, but it's a fun different. ... I'm getting chills thinking about it. We know there's a whole city behind us and a fan base that is super excited. We want to put on a good show for them, too."
The Cubs haven't been bothered by travel this season, boasting a 48-33 record in their road grays.
"We've played well there, we know this team, they know us, they know we're good, we know they're good," Ross said. "It'll be about who goes out there and plays the cleanest game. It's all about the starting pitcher, too, and we have a really good one."
If the Cubs and Pirates had finished with identical records, the Wild Card Game would've been played at Wrigley Field because Chicago won the season series, 11-8, which includes a 6-4 record at PNC Park.
"We'd love to do this in front of our fans," Anthony Rizzo said. "Now we have to get back there [to Wrigley] somehow. We play well at PNC. I personally like playing there. We just have to go out and play. They'll be loud, and we have to be ready."
How much does Rizzo like the Pirates' home park? He batted .421 in 10 games there this season, with two home runs, four doubles, and six RBIs.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon saw first-hand how much the home field didn't matter in the 2010 American League Division Series with the Rays, who lost to the Rangers, 3-2. Neither team won at home in that series.
However, playing at Wrigley Field has mattered to Cubs rookie Kris Bryant, who hit .311 at home, hitting 21 of his 26 home runs there. Bryant finished the regular season with 99 RBIs.
Bryant is one of the kids who have carried the Cubs to a 97-win season.
"I don't think Joe was managing to develop guys," Ross said. "I saw a manager who came every day to try to win a ballgame with the guys he had. It's a credit to him, it's a credit to the coaches, it's a credit to the players, the guys who come in every day and go about their business the right way."
Arrieta, who picked up his Major League-leading 22nd win on Friday, has had success against the Pirates, posting a 3-1 record and 0.75 ERA in five starts this season. His outings included seven shutout innings on Sept. 27 at Wrigley. Arrieta has limited the Pirates to a .151 batting average, and all five starts have been quality starts.
In four games against the Cubs this season, Cole is 2-1 with a 2.13 ERA, and he stymied them at Wrigley Field in the last meeting on Sept. 25, giving up one run over seven innings. The Pirates ace has held the Cubs to a .225 average, striking out 32 over 25 1/3 innings.
The only player on the Cubs roster who has homered against Cole is Javier Baez. Starlin Castro and Rizzo are both 6-for-17 (.353), while Bryant is 3-for-9 with six strikeouts versus the right-hander.
It's been quite a ride for Maddon in his first year as Cubs manager. What sold him on the job?
"You read different things and all the kids," he said of the talented core. "I thought it was a combination of ownership and front office and players, and, I'm not going to lie, Wrigley Field. Having a chance to work there was very enticing to me, too.
"You put it all together and it's hard to beat," he said. "I often talk about how I feel fortunate to be here because all the heavy lifting was done prior to me coming here. They took a beating for a couple years doing the right thing and all of a sudden guys are playing like they are. It was a combination of all that. It's played out pretty good the first year."
They've got momentum. The Cubs won their last eight games, the first time the modern day Cubs have finished with an eight-game win streak. The 1884 Chicago White Stockings ended their season with a nine-game winning streak.