This is the fourth year of wild-card winner-take-all games, so the 2015 versions are the seventh and eighth such games.
Among the previous six, in only one did the two clubs playing meet as many times as the Cubs and Pirates did this year. That's the 2013 Reds and Pirates, who met 19 times during the regular season, the same number of matchups the Cubs and Pirates had this year. That's a long way of saying this is just the second time in eight wild-card games that the teams have been from the same division.
The Bucs and Cubs played early and often, and then late and often, but didn't see each other at all for a two-and-a-half-month stretch. They played 10 times in the season's first 37 games, and nine times in the last 58 games of 2015, including six of the last 20. I'm reasonably certain there's nothing these two teams don't know about each other, from playing on the field to additional scouting that was certainly done by Theo Epstein's excellent pro-scouting staff.
Here are all 19 of the games, with a brief summary of each.
April 20 at PNC Park: Cubs 5, Pirates 2. The Cubs broke a 1-1 tie with three runs in the seventh, the biggest blow a two-run double by Kris Bryant, playing in just his fourth big-league game. Jake Arrieta threw seven innings and allowed just four hits and one run.
April 21 at PNC Park: Cubs 9, Pirates 8. The Cubs had a 4-2 lead going into the bottom of the sixth, but Brian Schlitter and Jason Motte were awful, with five hits and five runs charged to them. The Cubs scored three runs in the ninth off Pirates closer Mark Melancon -- one of just two blown saves he had all year. Starlin Castro singled in two runs and then the long-departed Welington Castillo drove in the game-winner on a groundout.
April 22 at PNC Park: Pirates 4, Cubs 3. The Bucs scored all the runs off Jason Hammel in five innings, including a homer by Gregory Polanco. The Cubs came back to within 4-3 with two in the eighth off Jared Hughes and had the tying run on second with one out, but could not score further.
April 23 at PNC Park: Pirates 5, Cubs 4. Kyle Hendricks threw five solid innings as the Cubs took a 4-1 lead, but the Bucs hit him hard in the sixth and tied the game. An RBI single by Gregory Polanco off Schlitter in the seventh turned out to be the game-winner.
April 27 at Wrigley Field: Cubs 4, Pirates 0. The Cubs played the Pirates for the second time in a week. This was Jason Hammel's best start of the year: eight shutout innings, four singles allowed, seven strikeouts, no walks. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo each had two RBI.
April 28 at Wrigley Field: Cubs 6, Pirates 2. Travis Wood didn't have many good starts before being moved to the bullpen, but this was one of them: seven innings, two runs. Dexter Fowler went 3-for-4 with two RBI and Starlin Castro also had three hits. Corey Hart was the Pirates' starting first baseman, one of just 10 games he started in 2015 before going down with an injury in late June.
April 29 at Wrigley Field: Pirates 8, Cubs 1. The only real blowout all year, the Pirates broke open a close game with a four-run sixth off a pitcher who finished the year with the Colorado Rockies, Gonzalez Germen. (So don't worry, you won't see him in the wild-card game.)
May 15 at Wrigley Field: Cubs 11, Pirates 10, 12 innings. The Cubs had a five-run lead in the eighth and blew it, but won it in the 12th inning when this happened:
May 16 at Wrigley Field: Cubs 4, Pirates 1. Jon Lester threw seven solid innings and the Cubs broke open a close game in the eighth, scoring one run on a wild pitch and the other on a sacrifice fly.
May 17 at Wrigley Field: Pirates 3, Cubs 0. Cubs nemesis A.J. Burnett threw seven shutout innings and the Cubs had just five hits, ruining a nice outing (seven innings, one run) from Jake Arrieta.
The August 3 game at PNC Park was rained out after four innings with the score 1-1 and was eventually rescheduled as part of a split doubleheader September 15.
August 4 at PNC Park: Cubs 5, Pirates 0. Jake being Jake! Seven Arrieta innings, two hits, no runs. Anthony Rizzo went 4-for-5 and Jorge Soler and Starlin Castro drove in two runs apiece.
August 5 at PNC Park: Pirates 7, Cubs 5. Dan Haren got hit early and often and the Cubs were down 3-0 after three. They came back to take the lead 4-3 in the sixth with a three-run inning that featured home runs by Kyle Schwarber (two-run blast) and Anthony Rizzo (solo shot). But the bullpen flopped in this one, with runs charged to Travis Wood and Jason Motte.
September 15, first game, at PNC Park: Pirates 5, Cubs 4. Jason Hammel got hit hard in the first inning and the Bucs took a 4-1 lead into the seventh. An RBI double by Tommy La Stella scored one run, then Pirates reliever Joakim Soria wild-pitched in two runs to tie it. Again, the Cubs bullpen failed, though it was an unearned run off Justin Grimm that was the game-winner.
September 15, second game, at PNC Park: Cubs 2, Pirates 1. This was Jon Lester's tour de force. He threw a complete game, his only one of the season, and wrapped it with a flourish, retiring the final seven batters he faced, finishing it off with a called K of Francisco Cervelli.
September 16 at PNC Park: Cubs 3, Pirates 2, 12 innings. This one showed the human side of Jake Arrieta, as the Cubs might have won this in regulation if not for Jake messing up what should have been an easy toss to first on a comebacker in the sixth. The Pirates scored a run on that play after the Cubs had taken a 2-0 lead in the top of that inning, and tied it up on this wacky play:
Chris Denorfia led off the 12th with a single; pinch-runner Quintin Berry went to second on a wild pitch and third on a single, scoring the game-winner on a sac fly by Anthony Rizzo.
September 17 at PNC Park: Cubs 9, Pirates 6. The Cubs took a quick 2-0 lead but blew it and trailed 4-3 in the fifth when they exploded for six runs. Anthony Rizzo hit a monster shot for his 30th home run and Addison Russell, Tommy La Stella and even pitcher Clayton Richard drove in runs in that inning. Richard threw three solid innings, perhaps solidifying his spot on the postseason roster, before faltering a bit and allowing a pair of runs. Travis Wood threw two scoreless frames for the save.
September 25 at Wrigley Field: Pirates 3, Cubs 2. The Cubs were offensively impotent until the ninth, when a Chris Denorfia double and Starlin Castro triple got them within one, with the tying run on third and one out. But the Cubs could not bring him home and lost by one.
September 26 at Wrigley Field: Pirates 4, Cubs 0. Francisco Liriano shut the Cubs down on just four hits through 7⅔ innings. This was the only time the Cubs lost two straight to the Pirates at home in 2015.
September 27 at Wrigley Field: Cubs 4, Pirates 0. Saving the best for last, Jake Arrieta nearly threw his second no-hitter of the season. He retired the first 18 hitters he faced before Gregory Polanco led off the seventh with a single, the only hit Jake allowed. He struck out nine, and to put the proverbial cherry on top, he hit his second home run of the season, off A.J. Burnett in the second inning.
All told, the Cubs won 11 of the 19 games played, going 6-4 at PNC Park and 5-4 at Wrigley. They outscored the Pirates 81-71 over those 19 regular-season contests.
Looking forward to adding another "W" to that list Wednesday night!