Giger: Enjoy every minute of this, Pirate fans
It’s been a long, long time coming, and we don’t know when it will come again.
Tomorrow is going to be flat out awesome for Pirates fans, especially those under 25 who either weren’t alive for the last playoff appearance in 1992 or weren’t old enough to remember it.
The Bucs are well positioned with their talented young nucleus to make a habit of getting to the playoffs the next few years, but absolutely nothing is guaranteed in baseball. The Cardinals and Reds will continue to be good in the NL Central, and with a number of other quality teams around the league, even really good Pirates clubs could have a tough time getting back here again.
So enjoy every minute of this.
And please, if you’re a Pirates fan, stop with all the trash talk toward others for what you perceive to be bandwagon, Johnny-come-lately fans. Whether you’ve lived and died (many times over) with the Bucs for the past 20 years or just enjoyed the ride the past few months, the bandwagon has plenty of room on it, so make room for everyone.
You’re all rooting for the same thing.
The Pirates capped their phenomenal 94-win regular season with a weekend sweep at Cincinnati to earn the right to host the Reds in the wild-card game. For good measure, they even won Sunday when the game was meaningless, thanks to an Altoona Curve All-Star lineup led by Brandon Cumpton, Jordy Mercer, Stolmy Pimentel and Josh Harrison.
The Pirates showed this weekend that they clearly are a better team than the Reds. But this weekend doesn’t matter. At all.
Tuesday’s game is the only thing that matters, and that in and of itself is a sham.
There’s no way any baseball playoff should ever be one game. Too many crazy things can happen in baseball to have everything come down to a single game.
It would be easy to make the wild-card round best two out of three. Just skip the off days, have the teams start the series today and it would be settled by Wednesday at the latest. Then you can start the divisional series Thursday.
Playing all those games in consecutive days wouldn’t be ideal, but it’s light years better than having a six-month season come down to one game.
But since it does, here are some matchup stats to keep in mind for the biggest Pirates game in 20 years:
* The Pirates went 11-8 against the Reds this season, 5-4 at PNC Park.
* Bucs starter Francisco Liriano is 8-1 with a 1.47 ERA at home. He went 0-3 with a 3.70 ERA against the Reds, although he did hold them to a .185 team batting average.
* Gerrit Cole was scratched from his scheduled start Sunday because the game was meaningless, and he will back up Liriano tonight if necessary. Cole won his final four starts and was outstanding.
* Reds starter Johnny Cueto is 13-4 with a 2.37 ERA against the Pirates in his career. He has held the Bucs to a .209 average, .285 on-base percentage and .629 OPS in 21 starts. In short, he’s owned them.
* Cueto probably isn’t the same pitcher that he’s always been. He’s made only 11 starts this season because of shoulder problems and has started just twice since coming off the disabled list Sept. 16.
* Cueto faced the Pirates twice this season, both at PNC Park, and went 1-0 with a 0.73 ERA. He gave up one run on two hits in 4 1/3 innings April 13, then pitched eight marvelous shutouts innings, allowing just one hit, on May 31.
* For the Pirates, Marlon Byrd is 7-for-12 (.583) lifetime against Cueto. Andrew McCutchen is just 9-for-39 (.231) but has hit three homers. Pedro Alvarez is 5-for-18 (.278) and Neil Walker 6-for-28 (.214).
* For the Reds, left-handed hitting Jay Bruce is 0-for-11 against Liriano, while Joey Votto is 2-for-10. Ryan Ludwick is 4-for-9 (.444), Todd Frazier 3-for-9 (.333) and Brandon Phillips 3-for-11 (.273). Shin-Soo Choo has faced Liriano the most from their days in the American League and is 6-for-31 (.191).
* Keep an eye on speedy Reds reserve outfielder Billy Hamilton, who can change a game in a hurry if he’s called upon by manager Dusty Baker. Hamilton stole an incredible 155 bases last year in the minor leagues and had a huge steal in a recent Reds comeback victory in Pittsburgh.
* Jordy Mercer is a much better offensive option than Clint Barmes for the Pirates, but in what could be a low-scoring game, look for Clint Hurdle to go with the better defensive shortstop in Barmes.
* There’s a lot of bad blood between these teams after they’ve played beanball a good bit this season and last. Don’t be surprised if a key player on one side – probably the Pirates – gets plunked early. The Reds seem to like doing that to try and get in the Bucs’ heads.
We can analyze the game all we want, but the playoffs almost always come down to pitching. Liriano has been terrific this season, while Cueto has been terrific against the Pirates throughout his career.
The Pirates have the momentum after a great weekend, and they’ll have the home-field advantage playing in front of a sold-out crowd that is so incredibly hungry to see their beloved team win.
They’ll get to see that tomorrow.
I’ll go with the Buccos, 4-2.
Then it will be on to St. Louis for the divisional round.
Cory Giger will be covering tomorrow’s game live from PNC Park. Follow his updates and analysis on Twitter @CoryGiger.