MLB: PIRATES vs REDS PREVIEW
N.L. WILD-CARD GAME
REDS (90-72) at PIRATES (94-68)
8 p.m. (TBS)
Season Series: Pirates won, 11-8.
Reds: CF Shin-Soo Choo (.285, 21 HRs, 54 RBIs, 20 SB, .423 OBP), LF Ryan Ludwick (.240, 2 HRs, 12 RBIs), 1B Joey Votto (.305, 24 HRs, 73 RBIs, club-record 135 BB), 2B Brandon Phillips (.261, 18 HRs, 103 RBIs), RF Jay Bruce (.262, 30 HRs, 109 RBIs), 3B Todd Frazier (.234, 19 HRs, 73 RBIs), SS Zack Cozart (.254, 12 HRs, 63 RBIs), C Ryan Hanigan (.198, 2 HRs, 21 RBIs).
Pirates: LF Starling Marte (.280, 12 HRs, 35 RBIs, 41 SBs), 2B Neil Walker (.251, 16 HRs, 53 RBIs, 24 2Bs), CF Andrew McCutchen (.317, 21 HRs, 84 RBIs, 27 SBs), RF Marlon Byrd (.291, 24 HRs, 88 RBIs overall; .318, 3 HRs, 17 RBIs in 30 games with the Pirates), 1B Justin Morneau (.259, 17 HRs, 77 RBIs overall; .260, 0 HRs, 3 RBIs in 25 games with the Pirates), 3B Pedro Alvarez (.233, 36 HRs, 100 RBIs, 186 strikeouts), C Russell Martin (.226, 15 HRs, 55 RBIs), SS Clint Barmes (.211, 5 HRs, 23 RBIs).
Reds: RH Johnny Cueto (5-2, 2.82 ERA).
Pirates: LH Francisco Liriano (16-8, 3.02 ERA).
Reds: LH Aroldis Chapman (4-5, 2.54 ERA, 38 saves/43 chances, 112 Ks in 63 2-3 innings), LH Sean Marshall (0-1, 1.74), RH Sam LeCure (2-1, 2.66), RH J.J. Hoover (5-5, 2.86), LH Manny Parra (2-3, 3.33), RH Alfredo Simon (6-4, 2.87).
Pirates: RH Jason Grilli (0-2, 2.70, 33 saves/35 chances), RH Mark Melancon (3-2, 1.39, 16 saves/21 chances), LH Tony Watson (3-1, 2.39), LH Justin Wilson (6-1, 2.08), RH Vin Mazzaro (8-2, 2.81), RH Kyle Farnsworth (1-1, 1.04), Bryan Morris (5-7, 3.46), Jeanmar Gomez (3-0, 3.35).
The winner advances to face the NL Central champion Cardinals in a best-of-five series that begins Thursday in St. Louis. ... The Pirates swept Cincinnati on the final weekend of the season to clinch homefield for the wild-card game. Pittsburgh hasn’t won four straight over Cincinnati since July 11-14, 1991. ... The Pirates are in the playoffs for the first time in 21 years. The Reds made it for the third time in four years after winning the Central in 2010 and ’12. ... The Ohio River rivals are meeting in the playoffs for the sixth time. They also played in 1970, 1972, 1975, 1979 and 1990, when the Reds won their last World Series title. ... The Reds are 13-7 against the Pirates in the postseason. Pittsburgh has played the Reds more than any other team in the playoffs. ...
It’ll be the first playoff game at PNC Park, which opened in 2001. ... The Pirates went 50-31 at PNC Park this season, the third-best home record in the NL behind Atlanta and St. Louis. They were 5-4 there against the Reds. The Reds took two of three at PNC Park in their last series there Sept. 20-22. ... Cueto is 8-2 at PNC Park. ... Liriano went 0-3 in four starts against the Reds this season, although the lack of run support was a significant factor. He allowed one run during a 2-0 loss at PNC Park on June 1, two solo homers during a 4-1 loss in Cincinnati on June 17 and was in line for a win before Cincinnati rallied for three runs in the ninth against the bullpen and took a 6-5, 10-inning win at PNC Park on Sept. 20. ... The rivalry got an edge this season with 28 batters plunked, the most for any season series in the majors. ... Pirates C Russell Martin led the majors by throwing out 36 attempted base stealers this season.
Reds: Unlike last year, when the Reds had the second-best record in the majors, they’re heading into the playoffs with a five-game losing streak and a lot of questions. RHP Mat Latos was expected to start the wild-card game, but a bone chip inflamed his elbow and forced manager Dusty Baker to switch to Cueto. It’s unclear when Latos might be available to start if the Reds get past the first game. RH Homer Bailey was bothered by a sore leg in his start on Friday. And RH Bronson Arroyo had his back lock up before his start on Saturday, when he gave up a career-high five homers in an 8-3 loss to the Pirates. The offense is in another one of its periodic funks, too, scoring 2, 0, 1, 3 and 2 runs in those last five losses.
The Reds overcame a lot of setbacks to reach the postseason. They lost setup relievers Jonathan Broxton and Marshall to injuries for most of the season. Ludwick, the cleanup hitter, tore cartilage in his right shoulder while sliding into third base on opening day, leaving him out until mid-August. He struggled after his return, batting only .240 with two homers and 12 RBIs in 38 games. Teams pitched around Votto, who led the NL in walks for the third straight season with a club-record 135. Yet, they made it to the playoffs. The challenge now is to get hot for a couple of weeks, something that will depend a lot upon that suddenly unsettled starting pitching.
Pirates: The Pirates (94-68) are one of baseball’s biggest surprises, riding solid starting pitching and an MVP-worthy performance from McCutchen to the franchise’s first playoff berth in 21 years. A season after finishing third behind San Francisco C Buster Posey in the MVP race, McCutchen is favored to become the first Pirates MVP since Barry Bonds in 1992. McCutchen was at his best down the stretch, hitting .339 after the All-Star break to keep the Pirates offense producing after the starting pitching fell off a bit in the second half. ...
Liriano may have been the biggest steal during free agency last winter. Foundering at age 29, Liriano has been revived in Pittsburgh. He signed a two-year deal in January and came at a discount after breaking his right (non-throwing) arm on Christmas Day. He made his debut in May and was arguably the best pitcher in the NL not named Clayton Kershaw or Matt Harvey from May to mid-August. But Liriano went just 1-2 with a 5.14 ERA in September. Pittsburgh splurged a bit at the waiver trade deadline in late August, bringing in Byrd, Morneau and catcher John Buck to give the offense some pop. Byrd has been Pittsburgh’s most consistent player over the last month, hitting .318 with three homers and 17 RBIs in 30 games with the Pirates. He enters his first postseason in a 12-year career. ... Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle is 245-241 in three seasons with the Pirates.
• Pumped PNC: The biggest game in the ballpark’s history will actually overshadow the Pittsburgh Steelers this week. Normally, by this time of year, the city is wrapped up in its football team. The Steelers are 0-4 for the first time since 1968, leaving the Pirates to bask in the city’s attention. As Pittsburgh native Walker put it: “It’s going to be a really exciting time. Something a lot of people haven’t experienced with Pirate baseball. I imagine it’s going to be Steeler-esque on Tuesday.”
• Cueto’s Second Chance: The Reds ace is eager for this one. Last year, he started Cincinnati’s playoff opener at San Francisco but had to leave after only eight pitches because he strained muscles in his right side. That left the Reds’ rotation in disarray for the five-game series, which San Francisco won 3-2. Cueto was the Reds’ starter on opening day this season, but wound up on the disabled list three times with strained muscles behind his pitching shoulder. He’ll be making his third start since coming off the disabled list.
• Pirates Power: Pittsburgh got to the playoffs on the strength of its pitching staff, which allowed the second-fewest runs in the majors. The offense finished in the bottom third of the NL, but showed a little swagger in the final month. The Pirates hit 32 homers in September, their best total for a month since July last year. Alvarez finished the season with 36, tying for the league lead. Pittsburgh needs its offense to keep it up in the postseason, where runs tend to be tough to come by.