NL Wild Card Game Preview: Cincinnati Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates


Sep 28, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips (4) is congratulated by third baseman Todd Frazier (21) after scoring during the third inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

It all comes down to one game for the Cincinnati Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates Tuesday night when the Reds travel to the Steel City for the National League Wild Card Play-in game.

The winner of Tuesday’s game will travel to face the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Division Series.

Pittsburgh earned home field advantage for the Wild Card game by sweeping the Reds over the weekend in Cincinnati, where they won the season series vs. Cincinnati 11-8, including four of the past five times they played.

The pitching matchup for the game will be the Pirates sending Francisco Liriano to the mound while the Reds will pitch Johnny Cueto in a matchup of two Dominican-born pitchers in the biggest game of the season to date.

Liriano is 16-8 this season with a 3.02 ERA in 26 starts. At home, Liriano has a 1.47 ERA this season, so headed into the game, the odds of a good game are already in his favor.

Previously, Liriano has pitched twice in the postseason, as a member of the Minnesota Twins in 2009 and 2010, where he faced the New York Yankees on both occasions, resulting in losses.

In those two postseason starts, Liriano pitched a combined 7.2 innings, allowing seven hits and five earned runs.

Sep 23, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto (47) pitches during the third inning against the New York Mets at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

As for Cueto, he’s also had two postseason starts resulting in losses. Last year, he left in the first inning in the NLDS against the Giants after a third of an inning due to a back injury. In ’10, Cueto lost to the Philadelphia Phillies, where he pitched five innings, allowing one earned run on five hits and one walk.

This season has been opposites for both starting pitchers with Liriano looking like the pitcher of his youth, being brought back to life as a Pirate, while Cueto has been on the DL multiple times, though in his final two starts of the regular season, he looked like the same pitcher that earned Cy Young Award votes the previous season.

But the Reds are an interesting group to look at. First, they played with no urgency whatsoever the final week of the regular season or even longer. They ended the regular season on a five-game losing streak in games they needed to win against the New York Mets and the Pirates, all played at Great American Ball Park.

The Reds were outscored by the Mets in the two losses 5-2, including being shutout 1-0 in the final game of the series. The one game the Reds did win vs. the Mets last week took extra innings. Pittsburgh outscored the Reds, 16-6 in their three-game series to end the regular season.

For the Reds to win this game (they were 4-5 in Pittsburgh this season), they must get off to a good start and not fall behind. Take this past Saturday, for example. The Reds were down 2-0 early on, they battled back to take a 3-2 lead, but then continued to do what they’ve done a lot lately and give up the lead and not battle back for a second time, as that loss sealed their fate to travel to Pittsburgh.

As for Pittsburgh, how great has Marlon Byrd been for them in the run to the postseason? Since joining the Pirates, he has 34 hits, 14 runs (nine doubles) and 17 RBIs as he’s batting .318 in his time in Pittsburgh.

Sep 28, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) bats during the ninth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. The Pirates defeated the Reds 8-3. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

I also can’t forget about MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen, who is batting .317 for the season with 84 RBIs and 185 hits (38 doubles, five triples, 21 home runs).

Another thing about the Pirates I really enjoy is they seem to be having fun. Having fun in the game of baseball can go a long way. Compared to the Reds, the Pirates are night and day when it comes to the perception of having fun with the game.

A lot of that comes down to who is the manager, and if Clint Hurdle isn’t the NL Manager of the Year, then that award means nothing in my eyes. What Hurdle has done with this young group of players and the veterans who were added at the trade deadline put everything together.

Compare Hurdle to Dusty Baker of the Reds, who I have a lot of respect for, and it just seems Hurdle has got more out of his players this season than what Baker has got from his team. Watch the final series of the regular season, and that is evident.

Though I’m not completely losing faith in the Reds … this game Tuesday could come down to one thing … which team scores the first run, because with these two pitchers on the mound, that could be the only one scored.

Whomever wins this game will have earned it, and if the Pirates win this game Tuesday, I feel their enthusiasm will have a lot to do with it. If the Reds win, maybe their more serious approach will be the right way after all, but baseball is always a little more fun when you play with a smile.

The Reds and Pirates will start their Wild Card game on Tuesday, Oct. 1 at 8:07 p.m. on TBS.