The excitement of the National League’s single-elimination Wild Card game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates will be ratcheted up all the more on Tuesday in Pittsburgh by an excellent pitching duel.
The Reds have given their ace, Johnny Cueto, the pitching assignment. Cueto had a nagging back injury throughout most of the beginning of the season, and Cincinnati wisely gave him an extended stay on the disabled list to fully recover from the persistent ailment. It was a good move because a fully healed Cueto has looked very strong in his two outings since his return.
In 12 1/3 innings in September he allowed just one earned run. He’ll be comfortable facing off against the Pirates. Over his career, Cueto has a lot of experience against Pittsburgh hitters, keeping them to a combined .220 batting average in 235 plate appearances.
As a result, with Cueto fit, he should be able to prevent any big run outburst. Still, even if he can’t go deep into the game, the Reds’ bullpen should have his back. The Cincinnati relief corps ranked fourth in the National League – out of fifteen teams – in fewest runs allowed by a bullpen.
As for the Pirates, there are a few more question marks surrounding starter Francisco Liriano. The left-hander has dropped off quite a bit in the second half after being electrifying before the All Star break.
Recently, he’s logged a 5.14 ERA in his past five games. He’s also been just so-so against the Reds this year, registering a 0-3 record and a 3.70 ERA. So why do I believe he can produce a strong start? No matter what his overall ups and downs produced, he’s consistently been excellent at home in 2013.
In 11 home starts, Liriano has delivered an 8-1 record and a 1.47 ERA. While his overall numbers against the Reds weren’t too impressive, he did pitch very well against them at PNC Park. In two starts against Cincinnati at home, Liriano threw 14 innings, conceding just seven hits and three runs, while striking out 18. Finally, like the Reds, the Pirates have an excellent bullpen. That group was even better than their Cincinnati counterparts, ranking second in the National League when it came to fewest runs allowed.
In general, these type of playoff games are played tightly for individual runs rather than big innings, which increases the possibility of a low-scoring affair.
Best bet: Bypass picking a winner and consider taking a cumulative score under 6.5 runs at 1.95.