The tiny visitors clubhouse at Wrigley Field seemed to suddenly clear out a few hours before Sunday's game, because the Pittsburgh Pirates' position players had departed en masse. Somewhere beyond the long steps to the visitors dugout, they found a room to discuss a collective approach against the starting pitcher for that game, Jake Arrieta.
Shortly after the meeting was over, Starling Marte emerged, as did Andrew McCutchen and the others, perhaps armed with a plan to score against a pitcher who has been more dominant than any other since the All-Star break. Whatever they tried -- mostly attacking pitches early in the count, it seemed -- did not gain traction; Arrieta retired the first 18 hitters and fired seven scoreless innings, and the Cubs won 4-0.
Before last year's NL wild-card game against San Francisco, Giants pitcher Jake Peavy and others quietly spoke to the reality that as the postseason began, Pittsburgh was probably the best overall team in the National League. But the Giants thought that if they could win that one game against Pittsburgh behind starter Madison Bumgarner, they had a chance to play deep into October. As it turned out, the Pirates were the first casualties of the greatest postseason pitching performance of all time, as Bumgarner dominated and ended their season.
A year later, the Pirates are similarly positioned. They are perceived by a lot of evaluators and rival players as the best team in baseball as the 2015 season closes, but they must get through Arrieta, who is about to complete the greatest second-half performance ever.