NL Wild Card Game Breakdown: Reds at Pirates

The Reds travel to Pittsburgh to face the Pirates, who will be playing their first playoff game since 1992.  The Pirates swept the Reds in Cincinnati over the weekend, although that won’t matter if the Reds win tonight.  The game is at 8:07 on TBS.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will break down each playoff series based seven components of each team, before offering my pick for the series (or in this case, game).

Lineup:  Pirates by a nose.  The midseason acquisitions of Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau, added to Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutcheon in the middle of the order, make this lineup very good.  The Reds lineup, with Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, and Shin-Soo Choo, isn’t to bad either.

Bench:  Pirates; another close one.  John Buck, Gaby Sanchez, Josh Harrison, and Felix Pie for the Pirates just beats out the Reds’ Billy Hamilton, Cesar Izturis, and Chris Heisey.

Starter:  Pirates.  This line would usually read “rotation” but this is just one game, so I’ll analyze each sides starter, in this case Francisco Liriano for the Pirates and Johnny Cueto for the Reds.  Liriano at home is 8-1 with a 1.47 ERA.  Cueto has good numbers in Pittsburgh too, but in fewer appearances.  Nevertheless, expect a low-scoring game.

Bullpen:  Reds.  JJ Hoover, Alfredo Simon, Sean Marshall, and former Pirate Zach Duke make the Reds bullpen a force.  The Pirates can counter with Jason Grilli, Justin Wilson, and Kyle Farnsworth.

Closer:  Reds.  I’ll take Aroldis Chapman’s 104 MPH fastball over an inexperienced Mark Melancon anytime.

Manager:  Pirates.  Dusty Baker of the Reds is a great manager, but Clint Hurdle will likely win NL Manager of the Year for his role in the return of winning baseball to Pittsburgh.

Home-field/crowd: Pirates.  The Pirates won the right to host this game, and there’s no telling how loud and energized the crowd will be.  They’ve been waiting, after all, for 21 years for a game this big.

Five of my seven categories favor the Pirates.  Therefore, look for the Pirates to win a game that I believe will be close and low-scoring, and then head to St. Louis to begin Division Series play on Thursday.

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