There's playoff baseball today! Check out our preview for the Pirates vs. Reds here.
Game 1 of a terrific-looking series between the Reds and the Pirates starts today.
Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Cincinnati Reds
Wednesday 2nd October from PNC Park
Live on Fox Sports 3 & Fox Sports 3 HD from 10:00am AEST (see TV Guide for other games and times)
Projected Starting Pitchers:
Francisco Liriano (PIT) & Johnny Cueto (CIN)
The Pittsburgh Pirates are in the postseason for the first time in more than 20 years. It is a major achievement for the city and a testament to Clint Hurdle and the Pirates organisation as a whole.
They will compete against their NL Central rivals, the Cincinnati Reds, who are in their second consecutive post-season.
Home-field advantage hasn't done much for the Pirates, as the Reds managed to steal four of nine games at PNC Park this season.
The Reds went into San Francisco last season and won both playoff games on the road, proving they can get the job done in unfriendly territory.
But what is worrying for Cincinnati is that they have lost their last five games.
Let’s have a look as each aspect of the game to see who has the edge.
The Pirates boast a line-up consisting of NL MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen and outfielders Starling Marte and Marlon Byrd. Throw in NL home run leader Pedro Alvarez and the Reds pitchers will need to be at their best to shut down the Pirates for all nine innings.
The Reds have some firepower of their own; Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Brandon Philips make up a formidable middle of the order. Shin-Soo Choo has been a godsend for the Reds at the lead-off spot as well. The Reds will punish bad pitching, but the Pirates have the advantage with the bats.
Both of these teams have some serious pitching firepower. The Reds lead the league in batting average against, allowing just a measly .236. They have given up the least number of hits of any team all year.
Second on that list? The Pittsburgh Pirates. So prepare for a defensive struggle all series long.
For starters, it is hard to separate Cueto and Liriano. Cueto has been great in his two games coming off the DL with an ERA of 0.75. Liriano has had a sensational year, especially at PNC Park, but he has dropped off the pace in September with an ERA of 5.14 in five starts.
On the bullpen side, both teams boast incredibly strong crews. Aroldis Chapman seemingly loves pitching against the Pirates, which may be vital come the ninth inning. Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon of Pittsburgh are part of the second best bullpen in the majors based on ERA (2.87), while the Reds rank fourth (3.30).
Overall, I cannot separate these two teams when it comes to pitching, but I'll have to go with my wife's hometown team, Cincinnati, on this one. Either way I expect to see a low-scoring, pitcher-dominated duel.
It is defence where the Reds just may have the upper hand slightly as well. The Reds fielding this season has been superior to the Pirates; however, that is not to suggest the Pirates are a bunch a slouches in the field. Expect both teams to show off their prowess in the park with a fielding masterclass on full display.
While the Reds have more playoff experience, at the end of the day this is a 1-game playoff. The last time the Reds faced this scenario in 1999, it didn't go so well for them, losing at home to the Mets, 5-0. And if we have learned anything during the 162-game season, it's that it is difficult for one game to truly determine the better team.
This game will go down to the wire, and I think in Billy Hamilton and Aroldis Chapman, the Reds may just have the players who can make things happen late to sneak over the line.
Prediction: Reds 2-1.