NL Wild Card Game Preview/Prediction

Like I said yesterday, it’s really hard to predict any single game, and that holds true for tonight. Sure, you’d think the the Pirates- who handled the Reds in their season-ending series- would win, especially with home field and tens of thousands of screaming fans who have waited since 1992 to see playoff baseball. However, again, one game is hard to predict.

That said, I like the Pirates’ chances tonight.

For one, they have the advantages I mentioned above- having shown they can beat the Reds and also having home field. For another, they are better set up to win tonight in other aspects.

Take pitching, for example. The Pirates will be sending Francisco Liriano to the mound. He has a 1.49 ERA in PNC Park, and has lost a grand total of once there this season. In contrast, the Reds have Johnny Cueto on the mound. While probably the better pitcher than Liriano under most circumstances, this will be only Cueto’s third start after returning from a DL stint and that carries huge risk, especially since the Pirates have a better bullpen than the Reds.

While, admittedly, the Pirates’ bullpen has had it’s ups and downs just like every other bullpen, the fact is that Fangraphs lists Pittsburgh’s relievers has having near two more Wins Above Replacement than the Reds’ bullpen. Although it’s something of a simplification, this essentially means that a team with the Pittsburgh bullpen would win two more games than, say, a team with the Reds bullpen. That might not seem a lot, but when you remember how razor-thin some races are in baseball, it can make a big difference. Also, I’m not exactly confident in how well Dusty Baker will do managing the bullpen in tonight’s game, although admittedly managerial comparisons are sometimes heresay.

However, the Reds do have two advantages. The first is the x-factor that is Billy Hamilton. If he gets on base- whether by getting a hit or by pinch-running- then the whole game situation could change, as his speed provides both a real (he can actually steal bases and beat throws) and psychological advantage. The second is that they are better at getting on base.

However, in general, I’m going with the momentum and home field advantage: I predict the Pirates win 6-3. Just don’t quote me on it… unless I’m right.