Last night was just the opening act, tonight the playoffs officially begin!
This year’s playoffs (minus not having the Mets) to me look to be very enjoyable on paper. I don’t think there is a team that I legitimately can say I have a strong feeling “should” win it all.
Tonight, the Pittsburgh Pirates welcome the Cincinnati Reds to beautiful PNC Park.
This is a tough game for me to predict because I do not think there is a baseball fan in the world rooting against Pittsburgh, unless of course your team is still alive. That stadium better be rocking tonight because those fans have waited way too long for this moment.
Francisco Liriano (16-8 3.02 ERA) will get handed the ball tonight, and it’s fitting that a guy who needed to revive his career is pitching for the Pirates in their first postseason game in 21 years.
Liriano will be opposed by Johnny Cueto who in just 11 starts is 5-2 with a 2.82 ERA. Cueto just returned from an injury on September 16th. So the big question for Cueto will be whether he can be the reliable/consistent starter the Reds have been used to or will the fact he’s only thrown 13 big league innings since June 29th be an issue?
The Pirates lineup got a makeover during the summer. What looked like a weakness didn’t necessarily become a “strength,” it just isn’t a weakness anymore. Adding Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau brought a lot to this team, not only in performance but inside the clubhouse as well. It showed players like Andrew McCutchen that the organization believes in them.
The x-factor of course will be Billy Hamilton. Hamilton likely will not start, but he will be called on to pinch run late in the game if necessary. You can bet that Dusty Baker will be aggressive with Hamilton if the situation comes up. His speed is game changing, there’s no way around that.
With regards to the bullpen, I have to give the edge to the Reds. Don’t get me wrong, both bullpens are actually pretty solid. In fact, picking between the two is like debating between two borderline Hall of Famer’s – everybody can be right or wrong. The reason I go with the Reds is, I trust Aroldis Chapman in a big spot more than anybody coming out of the pen for Pittsburgh. This doesn’t mean he can’t be beat, it’s just me playing the odds.
I am probably in a minority when it comes to the manager’s. I like both of them, while many seem to use Dusty Baker as a dartboard. Say whatever you want about Dusty Baker, in 20 years he’s a .526 manager – that’s not easy to do.
When the Mets were looking for a Manager pre-Collins, I wanted Clint Hurdle (hooray for me?). I think he’s a great fit for this Pirates team and I think when you see both of these guys managing their clubs and getting the most out of their players, you see just how important a good manager really is.
So it’s time for a prediction. This is a tough one for me, because my heart is with Pittsburgh (my favorite ballpark) and I think it’d be amazing to see them make a serious run. However, my pre-season pick (and the team I laid money on this summer) was the Reds.
As much as I want to pick the Pirates, I am taking the Reds. I think this will be a 2-1 type game, and just for giggles I will take Billy Hamilton for the winning run with Chapman getting the save.
I would volunteer happily to be dead wrong here though. Who you got tonight?