Playoff baseball is back in Pittsburgh, but there's only one chance for the two National League Wild Card Game representatives to continue onward in October.
The Pittsburgh Pirates will host the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday, two days removed from a three-game sweep that vaulted Clint Hurdle's squad into the top Wild Card spot.
A six-home run afternoon allowed the Pirates to clinch home-field advantage Saturday, prompting the MLB Twitter account to post this tweet in the process:
The Pirates won again Sunday, handing Cincinnati a fifth straight loss in a 4-2 victory.
As noted by Fox Sports' Jon Morosi earlier in September, games between the Pirates and the Reds this year have been nothing short of heated, to say the least:
How tight has Pirates-Reds race been? Entering today, the aggregate scoring in their season series was 54-54.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) September 22, 2013
Keeping that in mind and pairing it with the magnitude of the MLB playoffs, we'll prepare you for this exciting battle of World Series contenders below.
2013 NL Wild Card Game Info
Who: Cincinnati Reds vs. Pittsburgh Pirates
When: Tuesday, Oct. 1 at 8:07 p.m. EDT
Where: PNC Park, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Season Series: Pittsburgh leads, 11-8
Pittsburgh and Cincinnati see each other 19 times a season, but No. 20 is the one fans will remember from the 2013 campaign.
The Reds will need to turn their fortunes around quickly after being swept by Pittsburgh, and won't have the luxury of sticking around in Cincinnati to work out the kinks.
Johnny Cueto will take the ball for Dusty Baker on Tuesday night and will be making just his 12th start of the season. Fortunately, he was strong in two starts against Pittsburgh this year and has also been strong in the month of September.
In two outings since returning from injury, Cueto has allowed just one earned run in 12 innings of work. He also has 10 strikeouts in his first starts since suffering a setback that landed him on the disabled list in late June.
According to baseball insider Peter Gammons, Cueto should not be underestimated by the Pittsburgh lineup:
Scout following Reds:"Don't underestimate Cueto on Tuesday. His fastball, change very close to normal his last start"— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) September 29, 2013
Hopefully for Cincinnati, the bats will come to his aid. Jay Bruce, Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo have all had outstanding years for the Reds, and they will be counted on to provide a spark behind Cueto when facing Pirates starter Francisco Liriano.
It's been a bounce-back season for Liriano. With a 16-8 record and a 3.02 ERA, Hurdle will have confidence when his defense hits the field with the lefty on the mound.
Some conflicting Liriano stats give hope to both teams. The lefty's home ERA (1.47) has been outstanding, and in nine starts in Pittsburgh, he has dropped only one decision. Unfortunately for Pirates fans, that loss was to Cincinnati.
Something's got to give.
At the plate, Pittsburgh will rely on NL MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen, Russell Martin and midseason acquisition Marlon Byrd. As noted by Elias Sports Bureau's Twitter account, third baseman Pedro Alvarez is also an important piece to the puzzle:
Each time the Pirates and the Reds have clashed this year, fireworks have ensued. Now facing each other on a national stage with win-or-go-home implications, Tuesday's matchup should be no different.
Fans in Pittsburgh have waited over 20 years to see playoff baseball in their town. With those kinds of circumstances in place, it's hard to imagine the 2013 NL Wild Card showdown disappointing those smart enough to tune in.
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