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NL Wild Card Game 2013: Reds vs. Pirates Breakdown and Predictions

Chris StephensCorrespondent IISeptember 30, 2013

NL Wild Card Game 2013: Reds vs. Pirates Breakdown and Predictions

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    John Sommers II/Getty Images

    This is it. The end of the season for one team comes down to a single game for the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates.

    The teams have met 19 times this year, with Pittsburgh holding the edge at 11-8. What's one more game Tuesday night (8:07 p.m. ET, TV: TBS) at PNC Park in Pittsburgh?

    In its second year, the Wild Card Game gives two teams an opportunity to advance to the divisional series. It will also be the first time teams from the same division meet in the game.

    Who has the advantage in each area? Is there a home-field advantage for Pittsburgh? What about the pitching matchups against the other lineups?

    Let's get to the breakdown.

     

    Note: All stats obtained from baseball-reference.com.

Johnny Cueto vs. Pirates Lineup

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    Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

    Johnny Cueto will get the ball against the Pirates on Tuesday. He is very excited for the shot and appears motivated to prove his worth, as he told Mark Sheldon of MLB.com:

    I thought, "Why are they going to use me on Sunday? This game isn't going to have any value for us." I waited to see what happened. Then the pitching coach [Bryan Price] called me in after the game and when he told me I was going to be the starter for Tuesday, I really got happy. It was very exciting for me.

    He's been limited to 11 starts this year due to three different trips to the disabled list with a lat injury.

    However, in those 11 starts, he's gone 5-2 with a 2.82 ERA and 51 strikeouts.

    Two of those starts came in Pittsburgh, where he picked up a win and a no-decision. Cueto pitched 12.1 innings against the Pirates, giving up one run and striking out nine.

    Here's a look at the Reds lineup Cueto is projected to face:

     

    Pirates lineup (numbers against Cueto in 2013)

    1. LF Starling Marte (0-for-5, 2 K's)
    2. 2B Neil Walker (1-for-4, 1 BB)
    3. CF Andrew McCutchen (0-for-3, 1 BB, 1 K)
    4. 1B Justin Morneau (0 AB)
    5. RF Marlon Byrd (1-for-1, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 BB)
    6. 3B Pedro Alvarez (0-for-2, 1 K)
    7. C Russell Martin (0-for-2)
    8. SS Jordy Mercer (0 AB) 

     

    Cueto has had success against the top of the order, but the difference here is Morneau. The two have never faced each other.

    Byrd had a home run against Cueto this year, but that came while he was a member of the Mets.

    Cueto mixes up his pitches very well, according to Brooksbaseball.net:

     

    Pitch# ThrownAvg. Velocity
    Fastball21593.17
    Changeup17283.99
    Cutter19888.72
    Slider12884.61
    Sinker22193.16

     

    All of the Pirates have struggled against Cueto this year with the exception of Byrd, so they'll need to find a way to manufacture runs. Alvarez is the only guy who is a big home run threat (36 this year), although McCutchen has hit 21 homers as well.

    Playing at home, the Pirates will have to focus on the first few innings to set the tone and get on the board. By doing that, they can turn the game over to their great bullpen in the late innings.

Francisco Liriano vs. Reds Lineup

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Francisco Liriano, who will get the ball for the Pirates, has been their best pitcher all year. Liriano is 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA and 163 strikeouts.

    He has faced the Reds four times this year, going 0-3 with a 3.70 ERA.

    Here's a look at the projected lineup Liriano will face:

     

    Reds lineup (numbers against Liriano in 2013)

    1. CF Shin-Soo Choo (1-for-12, 1 BB, 3 K's)
    2. 2B Brandon Phillips (3-for-11, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 3 K's)
    3. 1B Joey Votto (2-for-10, 2 BB, 2 K's)
    4. RF Jay Bruce (0-for-11, 6 K's)
    5. LF Ryan Ludwick (1-for-3, 1 RBI)
    6. 3B Todd Frazier (3-for-9, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 3 K's)
    7. SS Zack Cozart (2-for-10, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 3 K's)
    8. C Ryan Hanigan (0 AB)

     

    Liriano has had decent success against the Reds this year, especially through the first four in the lineup. Any pitcher who can hold Choo, Phillips, Votto and Bruce to a combined average of .136 is doing something right.

    Where it gets sticky for Liriano is facing Ludwick and Frazier, who have had some success against him this season. However, if Liriano can limit the top four to fewer than three hits collectively, the Pirates will have a definite advantage.

    The left-hander mainly uses three pitches—a sinker, slider and changeup. Here's how everything looks, according to Brooksbaseball.net:

     

    PitchNo. ThrownVelocity 
    Sinker1,00693.66 
    Slider 900 87.45 
    Changeup 549 87.18 

     

    With the exception of Ludwick and Hanigan, all of the Reds' hitters have seen Liriano enough this season. They know how to make adjustments and will have to do that if the Reds are going to win.

    The one good thing for the Reds is that their lineup has a lot more power than that of the Pirates. Choo (21 HR, 54 RBI), Phillips (18 HR, 103 RBI), Votto (24 HR, 73 RBI) and Bruce (30 HR, 109 RBI) have all had success at the plate this year, but they haven't gotten it done against Liriano yet.

Bullpen Breakdown

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    When it comes to the bullpens, the Pirates are better overall, but not by much. Here's how the numbers compare:

     

    PiratesStat CategoryReds
    2.89ERA3.29
    452Strikeouts489
    .229BAA.216
    175Walks179

     

    Comparing closers, Aroldis Chapman has been better than Jason Grilli this season. Chapman has 38 saves and a 2.54 ERA, while Grilli has 33 saves and a 2.70 ERA. What separates Chapman are his 112 strikeouts (15.8 K/9) compared to Grilli's 74 (13.3 K/9).

    As far as the other relievers, Reds pitchers don't have many holds. Only four have double-digit holds, with none owning more than 17.

    The Pirates have 16 saves and 26 holds from Mark Melancon, along with 22 holds from Tony Watson. With a lead, you have to like the Pirates' chances more than the Reds' in the seventh and eighth innings.

    However, nobody is better than Chapman in the ninth inning.

Bench Breakdown

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Both teams have various advantages when it comes to the bench.

    The Reds have the biggest advantage with Billy Hamilton. He has 13 stolen bases this year and can change the game late like no other.

    If the game is tied or the Reds are trailing by one run late, look for Hamilton to get involved somehow. Manager Dusty Baker will take anyone out who singles or walks to put Hamilton on the bases.

    Xavier Paul can also do a few things. He has seven home runs and 32 RBI.

    The Pittsburgh bench looks good with Gaby Sanchez (7 HR, 36 RBI), Garrett Jones (15 HR, 51 RBI) and Jose Tabata (6 HR, 33 RBI). There are a lot more Pirates who can come off the bench and make a difference.

    The pinch-hitter numbers tell a better story:

     

    RedsStat CategoryPirates
    .251Average.206
    5Home Runs7
    32RBI36
    12XBH22
    .326OBP.289

     

    The Reds bench gets on base more as pinch hitters, but the Pirates bench is getting the bigger hits.

    It all comes back to Hamilton. His ability to steal bases can change the course of the entire game, which gives the Reds the advantage in this category.

Dusty Baker vs. Clint Hurdle

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    John Sommers II/Getty Images

    Both Clint Hurdle and Dusty Baker have one NL pennant each, but neither has ever won a World Series.

    The biggest decision that Baker will face is when to deploy Billy Hamilton on the basepaths. Doing so early could provide Baker with a few opportunities to get Hamilton involved.

    Hurdle's biggest decision will be when to deploy his bullpen. He has a bevy of pitchers whom he can be confident will get the job done.

    Hurdle already made a smart decision in choosing the left-handed Francisco Liriano for the game, considering Shin-Soo Choo, Jay Bruce and Joey Votto are left-handed hitters.

    However, no real advantage can be given to either manager since neither has been in a wild-card playoff game.

Home-Field Advantage

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

    Outfield Dimensions

    Part of OutfieldDistance
    Left Field325 ft.
    Left-Center Field389 ft.
    Deep Left-Center Field410 ft.
    Center Field399 ft.
    Right-Center Field375 ft.
    Right Field320 ft.

     

    Pittsburgh is 50-31 at home, while the Reds are 41-41 on the road this year. The Pirates won five of nine meetings at PNC Park.

    With it being Pittsburgh's first home playoff game since 1992, expect the atmosphere to be crazy. Pittsburgh fans have been waiting for this game for a long time, and the excitement will be like none other that we've seen this year.

    But will it carry the Pirates to a victory?

Game Prediction and Analysis

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    Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

    The Pirates have won seven of their last 10 games, including four against the Reds.

    Francisco Liriano has been able to control the Cincinnati lineup this year, and Johnny Cueto doesn't have a lot of starts under his belt.

    Pittsburgh is going to score a few runs early and turn it over to the bullpen late. In the end, Pittsburgh wins.

     

    Score: Pittsburgh 5, Cincinnati 2

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