Who would the Cubs rather play in the one-game wild-card playoff — the Pirates or Cardinals?
It's an interesting question and a relevant one given the two teams square off against each other for a three-game series in Pittsburgh starting Monday. A Pirates sweep could mean they win the National League Central and instead pit the Cardinals against the Cubs in the wild-card game.
From the Cubs end, manager Joe Maddon said he doesn't have a preference one way or the other. That's fair. There is no clear choice here.
The Cardinals are beat up, with star pitcher Carlos Martinez now shut down for the season with a shoulder injury. Adam Wainwright's health status is still up in the air and beyond that, St. Louis has plenty of issues with Matt Carpenter (hip), Yadier Molina (thumb), Randall Grichuk (elbow) and then Matt Adams and Matt Holliday have struggled to stay healthy all year.
Sure, a battered Cardinals team would be nice to see in a one-game playoff, but it'd also be advantageous to the Cubs to see them in a five-game series, too. It sure looks like the Cardinals' luck — and their pact with the devil — are running out, but then again, they are the Cardinals, who knows?
The Pirates, on the other hand, would be very difficult for the Cubs to face in a five-game series. Gerrit Cole — who is slated to pitch the wild-card game — is a stud, but Francisco Liriano has a 2.27 ERA and 11.1 K/9 against the Cubs in his career.
So a five-game series against the Pirates where the Cubs could face Cole and Liriano twice each is about as scary as it gets.
Either way, this three-game series in Pittsburgh greatly impacts the Cubs, even if Joe Maddon's squad doesn't really have anything to play for themselves in terms of seeding.