The Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds are set to clash in the 2013 National League Wild Card Game.
With win-or-go-home implications right off the bat, postseason baseball promises to bring the noise from the first pitch on Tuesday night until the last one in this year's World Series.
For the first time since 1992, Pittsburgh is enjoying the spoils of reaching the playoffs.
The Fox Sports MLB Twitter account expects PNC Park to be rocking at game time:
In addition to home-field advantage, the Pirates come into the contest with a three-game sweep of Cincinnati under their belts and five wins in their last six games. Pittsburgh did not give up more than four runs in any of those results.
Conversely, Cincinnati limps into the postseason for the second straight year. Losers of five straight games and six of their last eight, the Reds blew a chance to overtake the Pirates in the wild-card standings and earn the right to host Tuesday's showdown at Great American Ballpark.
Momentum, player matchups and crowd noise will all play a part in the outcome, but this is the MLB playoffs we're talking about—anything can happen.
With a spot in the NLDS against NL Central rival St. Louis on the line, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati will pull out all the stops to keep playing in October.
2013 NL Wild Card Game Info
Who: Cincinnati Reds (90-72) vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (94-68)
When: Tuesday, Oct. 1, at 8:07 p.m. ET
Where: PNC Park, Pittsburgh, Penn.
Live Stream: Postseason.TV (MLB.com)
Probable Starters: CIN: Johnny Cueto (5-2, 2.82 ERA), PIT: Francisco Liriano (16-8, 3.02 ERA)
Season Series: Pittsburgh leads, 11-8
Game Preview, Prediction
Two Dominicans will take the hill for these teams on Tuesday, and each has a resume that suggests this is going to be a low-scoring ballgame.
For the home team, NL Comeback Player of the Year candidate Francisco Liriano will get the call from manager Clint Hurdle. With a strong regular-season performance and 163 strikeouts, Liriano has convinced Grantland.com's Jonah Keri that he's worthy of the award:
Liriano has been particularly impressive at PNC Park this year, posting an 8-1 record, 1.74 ERA, .174 opponents batting average and 0.964 WHIP. The Bucs have lost just two of his 11 starts in Pittsburgh.
Unfortunately, both of those losses came at the hands of the Reds.
Though Liriano rendered just three earned runs across 14 innings in those two starts, the Pirates were unable to provide him with enough run support. Hopefully, that trend is behind Pittsburgh after a strong performance at the plate during the season's final series.
Pittsburgh belted six home runs against Cincinnati on Saturday to clinch home-field advantage for this game and then turned around to add two more homers in a 4-2 win over the Reds on Sunday.
NL MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen leads the way for the Pirates, but Neil Walker, Justin Morneau, Marlon Byrd and Pedro Alvarez are all threats to go deep at any time. Alvarez finished tied for first in the NL in that with Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt with 36 bombs apiece.
Byrd, who was acquired in late August from the New York Mets, could be an X-factor of sorts. As noted by Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune, Byrd has been worth the price of admission since joining the NL Central contenders:
Marlon Byrd is batting .301 with 15 RBI in 29 games since joining #Pirates— Rob Biertempfel (@BiertempfelTrib) September 28, 2013
Hurdle's lineup will have to do its damage against Johnny Cueto, a man making just his third start for the Reds since coming off the disabled list earlier this month and his 12th start of the 2013 season.
He has, however, been strong in his two starts at PNC Park this year, surrendering just one earned run in 12.1 innings of work. Those numbers include eight innings of one-hit ball on May 31, a game that Cincinnati won, 6-0.
Cueto might not be the "safe" choice for Baker in this role, but MLB Network's Brian Kenny brings up a great point about why the trust between manager and starting pitcher is likely there:
Since start of 2011, only Clayton Kershaw has better ERA than Johnny Cueto. When he can pitch, he's the man..— Brian Kenny (@MrBrianKenny) September 30, 2013
Cueto will rely on a lineup that scored an average of 3.7 runs over its last six games to turn things around in Pittsburgh. Leading that charge will likely be first baseman Joey Votto, another NL MVP contender.
Any time you pass Pete Rose in an offensive category, you know you've had a good season. ESPN's John Buccigross reminded us just how good Votto has been in 2013 with this tweet:
Most Times Reaching Base - Single-Season in Reds History 2013 Joey Votto 312 1969 Pete Rose 311 1975 Pete Rose 310— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) September 28, 2013
Jay Bruce (30 HR, 109 RBI), Brandon Phillips, Shin-Soo Choo and Todd Frazier are all big parts of the Reds' offense too, and an interesting name to watch in an ancillary role will be base-stealing specialist Billy Hamilton.
The minor league All-Star had a .368 average and 13 stolen bases in 13 September games, leading Sports Illustrated to list him as a potential postseason contributor:
Reds basestealer Billy Hamilton could be a difference maker in October: http://t.co/3FvjzFSut4— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) September 26, 2013
Expect nothing short of desperation from both clubs.
Who will wind up representing the NL in the World Series?
Pittsburgh wants this. The city has waited over 20 years for another taste of the sweet nectar that is the playoffs, and it has a chance to get behind its team with a home game to kick things off.
Cincinnati wants revenge. The Reds blew a two-game lead in the 2012 NLDS and went on to lose to the San Francisco Giants in five games, ending their season prematurely.
Pittsburgh and Cincinnati usually have no problem scoring runs with their high-powered lineups, but this game comes down to the pitchers. With the Pirates surging and the Reds reeling, the home team records a tight victory in an atmosphere any baseball fan would love to experience.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 3, Cincinnati 1
Follow B/R's Ethan Grant on Twitter.