NL Wild Card preview: San Francisco Giants at Pittsburgh Pirates
This is about as even a matchup on paper as you’ll find, and trying to predict a one-game playoff matchup is incredibly hard. On the surface, you would think the Giants are the easy favorite in this matchup, but the Pirates rank just a tick higher in almost every offensive and pitching category. And the Pirates won four of six regular season matchups, two at home and two on the road.
Last year, the Pirates got a taste of the postseason. This year, I think they’re ready to take the next step. They were one of the hottest teams in baseball during the month of September, and their ability to manufacture runs with speed, as well as with the long ball, gives them the advantage in this matchup.
Andrew McCutchen is the Most Valuable Player in baseball, which was never more evident than when he came back from a recent DL stint to propel the Pirates to the top wild-card spot. And he helped get them to within a game of winning the National League Central. That also could be to their detriment as they used their best starter in Gerrit Cole in the last game of the season to try and win the division. More than likely, Cole gets the NL Wild Card start if the Pirates don’t have a chance to take the division in the last game of the year.
The Giants started out the season on fire and cooled off as the Dodgers took over the division. I still think this is a very good team that could do some damage if they get past the wild-card game, but their inability to get on base and steal bases concerns me. Their bullpen has been one of the best in baseball for ERA and batting average against, but they don’t have the shutdown arms out of the pen that really give a team a distinct advantage in the playoffs. The one positive for the Giants is they’ll have their ace on the mound in Madison Bumgarner; however, in his one start against the Pirates this season he gave up five runs in just four innings.
NL Wild Card prediction: It is an even number year, which means the Giants are due for a run in the postseason, but I think the Pirates will build off of their postseason success from last year and move on from the NL Wild Card game. This stage isn’t going to frighten any of them, and they have the best offensive player in the National League leading them in McCutchen. Volquez will need to be on his game, but if he can give them 5 or 6 strong innings, the Pirates’ bullpen has the arms to hold onto a lead. The Pirates win a close one 4-2.