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NL Wild Card: Pirates vs. Reds

Oakland Athletics v Pittsburgh Pirates

Welcome to October, or in this case should I say “Buc-tober”? Nah. Let’s stick with October.

The city of Pittsburgh is ready to party like it’s 1992 with the first Pirates home playoff game in 21 years tonight against the Reds (8:07, TBS) in the National League Wild Card game. That’s nine years before the beautiful PNC Park opened. Pirates star centerfielder and leading National League MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen was barely six years old when Sid Bream’s game-winning run knocked the Pirates out of the 1992 NLCS and sent them to over two decades of misery and sub par baseball.

Tonight’s starters are righty  Johnny Cueto for the Reds and  lefty Francisco Liriano for the Pirates. The winner here gets the right to play the Cardinals in the Division Series beginning Thursday afternoon in St. Louis.

Narrative Storyline:

America — and baseball — probably want the Pirates to win this game. Clint Hurdle’s team has been the traditional “feel-good” kind of team. Should the Pirates win, it’s a lot of easy columns and soft-focus pieces for the media over the next week. The Buccos season feels, in part, like the plot of “Major League” albeit without the foul-mouthed groundskeepers and threat of club’s ex-Showgirl owner moving the team to Miami.

There’s not supposed to be any bias in sportswriting, but you’d think most scribes deep down are pulling for a Pirates win — unless they’re totally dead and blackhearted from the business. That said, Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips can fill up a notebook fairly quickly. There’s no love lost between the Cardinals and Reds, so that series would be fun, even if it doesn’t tug at the baseball heartstrings like Pirates/Cards would.

Analytical Storyline:

You wouldn’t think it off the top of your head, but Liriano quietly assembled one of the best starting pitching performances of the season. The former Twin posted a 3.02 ERA over 161 innings, striking out 163 batters. According to research from Grantland the southpaw’s .321 OPS allowed to lefty batters is the best all time with a minimum of 100 batters faced this season.

That’ll be important tonight vs. the Reds with three of their most important bats — Shin-Shoo Choo, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce — all batting from the left side. Votto (.435) and Choo (.423) led the National League in on-base percentage. Those numbers drop to .377 and .347 respectively vs. southpaws.

Player to Watch:

As much as I’d like to highlight Pirates August acquisitions Marlon Byrd or Justin Mourneau, the honor here falls to the Reds’ speedster Billy Hamilton.

The minor-league steals record holder might not start, but something says he’ll have an impact tonight on the base paths late in the game.

Video to Get You Fired up:

This surfaced on r/baseball today. Another reason to like PNC Park.

One More Reason to Root for the Buccos:

Journeyman closer Jason Grilli seems like a cool guy.

Related: Yankees: More Questions than Answers Heading into Offseason
Related: Baseball’s Current Wild Card Format is Far From Perfect

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