Oct 1, 2013, 1:13 PM EDT
CINCINNATI REDS (90-72) vs. PITTSBURGH PIRATES (94-68)
Where: PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Gametime: 8:07 p.m.
Radio: ESPN Radio
Weather: Partly cloudy, 70 degrees, wind 6 mph
Starting pitchers: CIN – Johnny Cueto (5-2, 2.82) / PIT – Francisco Liriano (16-8, 3.02)
It’s the first of October and time for playoff baseball, how fitting is it that we kick things off with the first Pirates postseason game in 21 years? Pittsburgh will host this NL Wild Card playoff with perhaps a cruel twist of fate: one game and it could all be over.
The expansion of the playoffs has made pennant races more exciting and seems to be favored by most, but seeing the Pirates go down one-and-done would be absolutely devastating. Those stakes, among others, make this matchup a must-see.
The end of the regular season saw these two teams take very different paths into October. The Reds lost five straight games, including a sweep at the hand of Pittsburgh to close their schedule. They have lost four of their last five games to the Pirates overall and went 8-11 against them this season. The Pirates, meanwhile, are riding that three-game winning streak, and five wins in their last six games overall.
The Pirates also have a bit of a safer bet on the mound. Lefty Francisco Liriano has been brilliant this season, while Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto will be making just his third start since returning from a lat strain on Sept. 16. Cincinnati likely would have gone with Mat Latos if it weren’t for an injury of his own, so now they send out a pitcher who has only thrown 60 2/3 innings in 2013.
Cueto does, however, have a fantastic track record against these very same Pirates. He’s battled them over the years as part of the division rivalry, and sports a 13-4 record with a 2.37 ERA. He’s thoroughly dominated them through 21 career starts and hopes to continue that run tonight.
As far as their lineups go, the advantage goes to Cincinnati. The Reds placed third in the NL this season with 698 runs, and are also a much more patient lineup than Pittsburgh’s. The Reds ranked second in MLB this season with 585 walks. Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo actually topped the entire league in walks this year with 135 and 112, respectively.
The Reds also have a bit of an X-factor in Billy Hamilton. The speedy rookie led the majors with 13 stolen bases in the month of September after getting called up from the minors where he was a legend on the base paths.
One team is hot, the other cold, and both know each other very well as division foes. The winner gets a shot at the St. Louis Cardinals – another NL Central team – in a five game series starting Oct. 3. Who will survive and advance?
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