As the city of Pittsburgh prepares for their first postseason game in 21 years, the National League postseason will begin on the field between the Pirates and Reds.
Just over 600 miles to the west, the National League's top seed, St. Louis, will be awaiting the winner for a Division Series battle that will double as an all National League Central match up.
While the players, coaches and executives won't offer an indication as to which team they would rather see, I'll do it for them.
If the Cardinals are going to reach the National League Championship Series, the road will be easier if Pittsburgh is the foe.
When Francisco Liriano faces off with Johnny Cueto, don't expect tweets or Facebook posts from St. Louis employees expressing rooting interest or allegiance towards Pittsburgh, but deep down, it's probably there.
Before we get into why the Reds are such a dangerous opponent for the Cardinals, let's acknowledge the facts from 2013 that don't mesh with the narrative: During the regular season, St. Louis had more success (11-8) against Cincinnati than Pittsburgh (9-10).
Using run differential (+25 against Cincinnati, +2 against Pittsburgh), it's clear how even the 19 games were in one season series and how lopsided they were in the other.
Now that we've covered the grounds for the likely retort in the comments section, here are four reasons why St. Louis would rather face Pittsburgh than Cincinnati.
1. Francisco Liriano can only face St. Louis once at PNC Park
Due to the nature of pitching the NL Wild Card Game on Tuesday and St. Louis' home field advantage in the NLDS, the best home field pitcher in baseball will only be afforded one home field start in the first round of the postseason.
Welp, had the Reds winning that series. Now they get to go face Francisco Liriano at PNC Park, where he has a 1.47 ERA. Good luck with that.— Zachary D. Rymer (@zachrymer) September 28, 2013
In 11 starts at PNC Park this season, Liriano has lost just once and sports a 1.47 ERA.
Although he would again be lined up to pitch at home in Game 3 or 4 of the NLDS, Pittsburgh's decision to use him to win on Tuesday will not allow multiple starts from their ace in the first round.
If the roles were reversed (St. Louis in the Wild Card Game and Pittsburgh awaiting the winner), the specter of two games against Liriano in Pittsburgh would be enough to scare any contender.
2. Cincinnati is built for October success
Ignore the five straight losses to end the season or the least victories among any 2013 postseason team.
If this represented the first time that a core of Joey Votto, Homer Bailey and Jay Bruce qualified for the postseason under Dusty Baker, their mental toughness and sharpness heading into October would be a major question mark.
Instead, the Reds come into this postseason with experience and something to prove.
After NLDS exits in 2010 and 2012, Cincinnati is built like a team that can make a sustained run through the postseason.
Joey Votto has reached base safely 312 times this year - moving past Pete Rose (311 in 1969) for @Reds franchise record.— MLB Stat of the Day (@MLBStatoftheDay) September 28, 2013
With Bailey (199 SO, 3.49 ERA) and Latos (187 SO, 3.16 ERA), neither slated to go in the wild card game, rested and ready for the NLDS, the Reds can match the pitching excellence of Adam Wainwright atop the St. Louis rotation.
With Shin-Soo Choo (.423 OBP), Joey Votto (.926 OPS) and Jay Bruce (30 HR), the Reds have an offense, especially when factoring out Allen Craig (via USA Today), that can out hit the Cards. With Aroldis Chapman (15.8 K/9), Dusty Baker has far less questions about his closer than Mike Matheny does about his Edward Mujica/Trevor Rosenthal September switch.
Factor in the blown 2-0 lead in 2012's NLDS to San Francisco, and the Reds look like a team poised to get over their early October hump and deep into the playoff dance for the first time since 1995.
Although Tony La Russa isn't in the dugout for St. Louis, and Brandon Phillips has taken his anger out on reporters more than division rivals in 2013, bad blood still exists between St. Louis and Cincinnati from recent years.
Scuffles, near brawls and personal issues won't necessarily change the outcome of a potential five-game series with so much on the line, but there's an extra gear to Cardinals-Reds in August.
In October, it may take on a different life.
Yes, Pittsburgh is also a division "rival" to St. Louis, but until 2013, it didn't feel like one for a long, long time.
If the Cardinals want to remove the noise and just play a best-of-five, they'll welcome the Pirates in with open arms. If they want questions about the past and vitriol to spill into October, the Reds are the choice.
4. Cincinnati's American League-lite lineup
The specter of Adam Wainwright, the National League's best pitcher in the non-Clayton Kershaw division, pitching twice in a five-game series could be enough to shutdown any lineup.
While predicting the Reds offensive output against Wainwright can be tough, their deep, patient attack is good enough to give any combination of young St. Louis pitchers (Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn), trouble in games 2, 3 and 4.
The following chart shows Cincinnati's offensive ranks among all of Major League Baseball and the National League.
|Stat||Total||MLB Rank||NL Rank|
If St. Louis' young starters feel jitters in October, they'll be greeted by unforgiving bats and smart, disciplined hitters.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are very, very good and poised to play well against St. Louis if they can get through Tuesday night's Wild Card Game, but Cincinnati is the team that should be feared by the National League contenders.
Which team should the Cardinals root for on Tuesday night?
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