MLB Playoffs 2013: Breaking Down Wild Card Pitching Matchups
The 2013 MLB playoffs begin on Tuesday night in the National League with the Cincinnati Reds going to PNC Park to take on the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first Wild Card Game at 8:07 p.m. ET on TBS.
The second Wild Card Game will be the American League matchup between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cleveland Indians who will welcome the Rays to town. This game will take place on Wednesday at 8:07 p.m. ET on TBS.
Johnny Cueto will get the nod for the Reds, and Francisco Liriano will go for the Pirates in a matchup that will feature two starters who are a bit more established than the AL version's starters.
For the Rays, Alex Cobb will get the ball, and Danny Salazar will take the mound for the Indians. These two pitchers will both be making their first career playoff starts.
Let's break down each of these pitching matchups and figure out who has the edge in each.
Cincinnati Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates
Johnny Cueto vs. Francisco Liriano
With Mat Latos unable to make the start for the Reds due to an elbow injury (according to the Associated Press via ESPN.com), Cueto will get the ball a year after lasting just 0.1 innings in Game 1 of the 2012 NLDS because of injury.
Cueto has seen plenty of the trainer's room in 2013 with back issues and has made just two starts since returning from the disabled list on September 16. In those two starts, Cueto has looked solid with a 1-0 record and a 0.75 ERA. For the season, Cueto is 5-2 with a 2.82 ERA in limited action.
Liriano has seen his career revived as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. After ending three of his last four seasons with an ERA over five, Liriano's numbers are starting to look more like that of an ace with a 16-8 mark and an ERA of 3.02 for the upstart Pirates in 2013.
One major thing these two have in common is their lack of playoff experience. Liriano has tossed just 7.2 innings in the postseason in two appearances (one start), while Cueto has two October starts for a combined 5.1 innings pitched. Despite that, both starters have at least six years of experience in MLB.
Liriano's struggles have been evident against the Reds as they are one of the handful of teams that have had some success against him this season.
The 29-year-old has yet to win against Cincinnati and has three losses in four starts with a respectable ERA of 3.70. Cueto's numbers are far more impressive against his counterpart as the Reds starter is 1-0 this season in two starts with a 0.73 ERA, although one of those starts ended early due to injury back in April.
Looking at Cueto's numbers all-time against the Pirates is where he has a huge edge. Cueto is 13-4 with a 2.37 ERA against Pittsburgh overall and owns a great 8-2 mark with a 1.80 ERA in PNC Park alone.
The experience factor clearly goes to the Reds as a team after playing in October last year. Cueto's past success against Pittsburgh should carry over into this game against a tight Pirates team that is making its first postseason appearance in 21 years.
Tampa Bay Rays at Cleveland Indians
Alex Cobb vs. Danny Salazar
The American League Wild Card Game will feature two of the younger pitching stars that are emerging in MLB today.
Cobb has been stellar for the Rays in 2013 but was forced to miss two months during the season with a head injury as a result of being hit by a comebacker. When he's been on the field, Cobb posted an 11-3 record with a 2.76 ERA. The 25-year-old has won his last three starts to finish the regular season strong and sported a 3-0 record with a 2.57 ERA in September.
Fellow young stud, Salazar, entered the big leagues in July and has been great for the Indians ever since his debut start on July 11 that saw him go six fabulous innings of two-hit, one-run ball with seven strikeouts. For the season, Salazar is 2-3 with a 3.12 ERA and also finished off the season looking good with a 2.52 ERA during the final month, although he only lasted six innings or more twice in five starts.
Cobb has seen the Indians once this season—which came back on April 6—and was dominant. He went 7.1 innings without allowing a run while surrendering just four hits and striking out six. Salazar has yet to face the Rays this season, so that makes his future against Tampa Bay in this game unpredictable.
Tampa Bay finished No. 21 in MLB in strikeouts as a team, so Salazar's ability as a guy who can make hitters miss may fall flat against his Wild Card opponent. On the flip side, Cobb should enjoy plenty of whiffs as the Indians finished No. 9 in baseball in strikeouts as a team.
Cobb will come into this game as the hotter of the two pitchers considering his superior numbers in September with four of his five starts being six innings or more during the month. Both pitchers will suffer from inexperience in this game, but the Rays have a great track record of putting young starters in a big spot and getting the most of them—and Cobb will be the latest to get it done.
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