Cincinnati Reds @ Pittsburgh Pirates
Wild Card Playoff Game
Tuesday, October 1st 2013. 8:07 PM EST on TBS
How They Got Here: The Reds return to the playoffs for the 3rd time in four years under manager Dusty Baker. They finished third in the NL Central with a 90–72 record, after winning the division in 2012. The Reds won the first two games of the 2012 NLDS on the road before losing the next three to the World Series champion Giants at home.
Strengths: This is a balanced team with very stout defensive play, led by gold glover Brandon Phillips. The offense is arguably the most patient in all of baseball. The Reds lineup contains the top two OBPs in the National League in Joey Votto (.435) and Shin-Soo Choo (.423). While Johnny Cueto has been dealing with a lat injury all year long, Mat Latos has emerged as the Reds' most reliable starting pitcher. He's gone 14-7 with a 3.16 ERA and 187 Ks in 210.2 innings pitched. The Reds will be sending Cueto to the hill on Tuesday hoping for a longer outing than game 1 of the NLDS, where he left the game in the 1st inning with an injury. If Cincinnati has a lead going into the 9th inning, good luck hitting Aroldis Chapman's blazing fastball. Billy Hamilton is a real weapon as a pinch runner off the bench.
Weaknesses: The Reds have a lineup that struggles when facing left handed pitching. In this game they will be facing a rejuvenated southpaw in Francisco Liriano. Reds' starting pitcher Johnny Cueto has left a handful of starts early with a lingering lat injury he has been dealing with since last October. Dusty Baker can never seem to win in big games.
Keys to victory: The Reds need to be patient while facing Francisco Liriano. This is a pitcher who in past years has struggled with control, and if players like Choo and Votto can get into deep counts, they could knock Lirnao out of the game early. The Reds have left a lot of runners in scoring position and they can't afford to do that again on Tuesday. Johnny Cueto can't leave the start with an injury; the Reds need a big outing out of their very talented pitcher. Cincinnati should get out to an early lead to keep this energized Pirates crowd out of the game.
How They Got Here: For the first time since 1992, the Pittsburgh Pirates are in the playoffs. The memories of Sid Bream's slide still haunt the fan base and the young Pirates team looks to bring better October memories to the city of Pittsburgh. After two promising first halves followed by late season collapses the last two seasons, the Pirates finally reached their playoff goal with a record of 94–68 and a 2nd place finish in the NL Central. Now they get to host the first ever playoff game in PNC Park history on Tuesday.
Strengths: Pittsburgh's offense is very balanced with players who can do a little bit of everything. They have players like Pedro Alvarez and Marlon Byrd who hit for power, guys like Justin Morneau and Neil Walker who have gap power, a speedy player in Starling Marte, and a player who can do all of that in Andrew McCutchen. The Pittsburgh bullpen had the 2nd lowest ERA in the National League at 2.89. They have two pitchers in Jason Grilli and Mark Malancon who can shut the door if called upon. The Pirates produced one of the best home records in baseball at 50-31. The crowd will be loud and hungry for some October success.
Weaknesses: When you have a young team, a lot of the time you unfortunately have an inexperienced team. Will the Pirates be able to handle games under the big lights of October? The Reds have been here, done that before; the Pirates have barely played a primetime game in a decade. The Pirates were 3rd in the National League in strikeouts and the offense can be inconsistent at times. Pittsburgh's pitching staff does get a lot of whiffs, but they walked the 2nd most batters in baseball.
Keys to victory: The Pirates need to put the pressure on the visiting Reds and jump out to an early lead. If Pittsburgh gets atleast six quality innings out of Francisco Liriano, I think they have a great chance to win this game. If Liriano can shut down the lefties in the Reds' lineup, it'll be a tough day for the Cincinnati offense. Mark Malancon has struggled for the past month and if this is a close game, the Pirates have to have a quick trigger if he looks to be struggling again.
First And Ten Staff Picks:
Seth Guttman: Reds. “The Reds playoff experience will give them the slight edge over the Pirates in a hostel environment. I think the patience of the Reds lineup forces Liriano to throw too many pitches early and he winds up out of the game before the 6th inning. Remember: last year both road teams won in the one game playoff.”
Chris Marcotrigiano: Pirates. “There has been a mystique around the Pirates all year. Their consistent offense, pitching, and defense should overpower the Reds, who have sputtered in key games in the past.”
Harris Yudin: Reds. “Liriano reminds me of Kris Medlen last year; had a surprising season, but struggled in an important playoff game due to lack of experience. Cueto can turn it on at any point and be untouchable and he has completely dominated the Pirates in the past two years. The Reds have too much talent, depth, and experience not to win.”
Anthony Tartamella: Pirates. “Andrew McCutchen will win the Pirates this game. I think the Pirates will be hungrier and more willing to go the extra mile to win the game.”