Tuesday, October 1st, at 8:07 PM ET on TBS
PNC Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Why to Watch:
It’s finally here, a playoff game in Pittsburgh. For the first time in 20 years the Pirates will get a chance to move on to the National League Divisional Series Tuesday night as they host the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Wild Card game. The Pirates won seven of their last 10 regular season games and have clicked on offense with MVP-candidate Andrew McCutchen and NL home run leader Pedro Alvarez (36) at the helm of a balanced Pirates lineup.
Pittsburgh recently welcomed their closer Jason Grilli from the disabled list back to the bullpen, where he has been nothing but dependable this year recording 33 saves with a 2.70 ERA in 54 appearances. The 36 year-old established himself as the closer this year after the dismissal of RP Joel Hanrahan and has proven to be effective in the role.
The Reds come into this game struggling mightily. They have lost their last five games and lost star 2B Brandon Phillips to a leg injury last Saturday – and now he is questionable to even be able to play Tuesday. However star 1B Joey Votto and OF Shin-Soo Choo continue to produce and find ways to get on base. The Pirates went 11-8 this season against the Reds, and are 50-31 at home where it has been rocking all season long.
Johnny Cueto (5-2; 2.82 ERA) vs. Francisco Liriano (16-8; 3.02 ERA)
Cueto wasn’t much of a factor this season, making three trips to the disabled list which limited him to only 11 starts. When he was active he looked like the 19-game winner he was in 2012 with five wins and an ERA under 3.00. Cueto will get the nod over SP Mat Latos, whose shoulder he claims has bothered him most of the season will finally put him on the sidelines. Francisco Liriano returned to ace-form this year with the return of a mid-90’s fastball and an effective changeup leading him to 16 wins. Liriano has been stellar at home this year, winning eight games with an ERA at 1.47.
Players to Watch:
Pirates 3B Pedro Alvarez: Alvarez might be the biggest factor on offense in this game. With a potential pitcher’s duel very possible, Alvarez could find himself in a situation where he can win the game with one swing of a bat. He finally showed just how much power he has this season, launching 36 homers, good for first in the National League with Paul Goldschmidt. Alvarez had four homers and 12 RBI in 19 games against the Reds this year.
Reds 1B Joey Votto: Votto turned in another great season posting a .306 average, 24 HR, 73 RBI, and a Reds franchise-high .436 OBP. Votto did receive some criticism this year for his league-high 135 walks compared to 73 RBI out of the number three spot in the lineup, most notably from his manager Dusty Baker. The Reds star is known for being a patient hitter and waiting for his pitch, but with the Reds now being in a one game play-in situation, let’s see if Votto tries to be more aggressive in his at-bats against the tough southpaw Liriano.
Pirates Bullpen: The bullpen staff is one of the main reasons why the Pirates were able to win 94 games. The team ERA of 3.26 was the third-best in the National League, and the 55 saves were the most. Those numbers foreshadow another close game in store for the Bucs. If Liriano can turn in another gem at home, the bullpen can do what they have done just about all season, shut down another offense late in the game for a win.
Reds OF Shin-Soo Choo: Choo has been somewhat streaky, but overall a very solid lead-off hitter this year.He has cooled down as of late, hitting only .235 in his last 10. One trend that has been true this season for the Reds is that when Choo is productive and getting on base, the Reds tend to win. He will need to be a table-setter in this game to allow the big bats like Bruce, Votto, and possibly Phillips if healthy, to drive him in and get out in front of this game. If Choo can make something happen on the base paths, don’t count out the Reds in this one.
The Reds just seem like an enigma. Some games this year they looked like World Series contenders, and other games you can’t help but wonder how they even got this far. If Votto and Bruce can drive in some runs in this game with Choo, Cozart, and Ludwick getting on base and become table-setters, then that could open the door for a Reds win. If they can’t produce, then this probably won’t be a winnable game for Cincinnati.
The key is getting Brandon Phillips healthy and into the starting lineup. He is the heart and soul of this team and the Reds will need his energy for any chance to come up with an upset. I don’t really see all of that happening, and that’s why I’m rolling with the Pirates in this one.
Liriano has been unbeatable at home and should feed off of the high-energy playoff crowd that is expected at PNC Park Tuesday night. Expect more timely hitting from McCutchen, Alvarez, Marlon Byrd, and the rest of the balanced Pirates lineup to give the Pirates a lead for good around the fifth or sixth inning. The bullpen should shut the door, and the Pittsburgh Pirates’ magical season should continue into the NLDS.