Lock down the back-end
The performance of the bullpen is critical in the postseason, particularly in a one-game elimination scenario. Pittsburgh may be able to find a pitching advantage over the Cubs given the performance of its bullpen this season.
At the beginning of the year, it looked like Pittsburgh’s bullpen could be a potential weakness. Instead, it has been instrumental in the Pirates turnaround and features enough depth to get the team successfully through the postseason.
In particular, the back-end of the Pirates bullpen has been very difficult on opponents. Mark Melancon and Tony Watson will need to continue to pitch well and help the Pirates shorten the game, particularly given the quality of starting pitchers they will face all postseason.
Melancon has been one of the best closers in the Majors this season, collecting 51 saves with a 2.29 ERA (2.87 FIP) according to FanGraphs. However, Melancon has given four earned runs over his previous two outings, something Pittsburgh will not be able to afford in the postseason.
Watson has also been underrated as an effective setup man over the past three seasons, including posting a 1.96 ERA (2.87 FIP) per FanGraphs. There are some concerns about Watson’s heavy usage this season and diminished velocity a couple of weeks ago, but his performance has been as good as ever in September.
Both Arrieta and Cole could find themselves out of the game earlier than normal in a win or go home scenario. If the Pirates manage to get Arrieta out of the game tied or with the lead, they need to count on Melancon and Watson to close out the win.
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