Go with the Pittsburgh Pirates - on at 2.00 - to win at home over the San Francisco Giants in the National League Wild Card Game.
Okay, this is one of those games you can make an argument either way. For instance, Giants’ starter Madison Bumgarner has tons of big-game post-season experience (the last time he pitched in October was the 2012 World Series when he threw seven innings of two-hit scoreless baseball in Game Two). Also, home field advantage hasn’t really been anything in the short history of the winner-take-all Wild Card. In fact, the visiting team has won three of the past four of these games.
Advantage Giants, right? Wrong. Let’s line up the reasons why the Pirates are the team here. Past Wild Card contests be damned, Pittsburgh was tied for the best home record in the NL this season. As for the post-season, the Pirates are the one team that has won one of the Wild Card games at home, doing it last year with many of the same key players who will feature in this game (like Andrew McCutchen, Russell Martin, Starling Marte and Neil Walker).
As for the pitchers, Bumgarner has the better long-term record (and the aforementioned post season work), but it is Pittsburgh’s Edinson Volquez who enters this game hot. In his past two starts his given up zero runs and just seven hits in 14 innings while striking out 16. He’s hot, while Bumgarner is tepid (0-1 with a 4.05 ERA in his past two games). It’s also worth mentioning that the Giants’ starter got slammed for five runs and six hits in four innings of work in his only start against the Pirates this season.
Volquez does have an Achilles’ heel and it’s walks. He finished tenth in the NL in that category this year (third last season and first the year before). But it’s unlikely that the Giants will take advantage of his wildness. San Francisco finished eleventh (out of fifteen teams) in base on balls this year.
In terms of total runs, look for the number to be below 6.5; take it at 1.95
While I don’t see Bumgarner as dominating as Volquez, I don’t expect either pitcher to completely lay down. Plus, both these teams have above average bullpen, so a late game meltdown appears unlikely.
I discussed it in my column yesterday, but it’s worth repeating: Teams tend to play these single-elimination games very tightly. Look for more bunting than usual with managers playing for single runs rather than big innings. This strategy should help guide this game to a low scoring affair.
Bet on tonight's game.