The Final Series
The last weekend of the regular season is upon us, and the National League doesn’t have much left to settle in the playoff picture. We already know the participants: the Braves, Dodgers, Cardinals, Pirates, and Reds have already clinched the five spots. The seeds have yet to be determined, but any way you match them up, it’s going to be really good teams battling it out. There is no easy way in October.
One thing that remains to be seen is where the Wild Card game will take place: Cincinnati or Pittsburgh. It just so happens that the two teams will play each other in the last series of the year, giving each team their own destiny as to where the meaningful one will be played.
This three-game set kicks off Friday night at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. While the Reds get the advantage of playing at home, the Pirates have the edge in the standings, coming in with a one game lead. The Pirates hold the tiebreaker, so just one win in the series will let the Wild Card game be at beautiful PNC Park.
The difference is crucial. Pittsburgh’s likely Wild Card starter, Francisco Liriano, has pitched considerably better in front of the home crowd this year. His 2013 stats:
Home: 8-1, 73.2 IP, 12 ER, 1.47 ERA, .174 BAA
Away: 8-6, 82.1 IP, 38 ER, 4.15 ERA, .255 BAA
Meanwhile, the Reds pushed back Mat Latos’ start so he would line up for the play-in game. Latos has been one of the most underrated pitchers in the league this year, though his last start against the Buccos didn’t go so well. He surrendered four earned runs in six innings, while striking out a season low one batter.
For the games this weekend, the pitching matchups line up as follows:
Friday: AJ Burnett (9-11, 3.39) vs. Homer Bailey (11-11, 3.40)
Saturday: Charlie Morton (7-4, 3.14) vs. Bronson Arroyo (14-11, 3.60)
Sunday: Gerrit Cole (9-7, 3.23) vs. Johnny Cueto (5-2, 2.82)
Burnett and Bailey are very similar pitchers. They’re around the zone, and give their teams a chance to win every time they take the mound. When they’re on, they’re hard to hit. Burnett had his best curveball of the year last time he took the mound, striking out twelve Reds in seven innings. Bailey hasn’t given up more than three earned runs in his last seven starts. EDGE: Bailey at home.
After a foot injury hampered him earlier in the month, Morton has been electric in his last two starts, giving up just one run in 15 innings. Morton gets the majority of his outs by putting the ball on the ground, with a 62.8 ground ball rate. Arroyo has been solid in his last four starts, including a win against the Pirates his last time out. The Reds need a big day from the leg kick. EDGE: Charlie “Ground Chuck” Morton
Gerrit Cole has looked every bit the ace many expected him to be when he was taken with the 1st overall pick of the 2011 draft. He has been dominant this month, striking out 39 batters in 32 innings his last five starts, allowing just six earned runs. Cueto has only had two starts since returning from a lat strain that sidelined him for nearly three months. He has looked very good, giving up just one run in 12 innings. Can’t go against the hot rookie phenom though. EDGE: Cole
The bullpen, defense, and bats will obviously play a huge role in the series, but it’s the starting pitching that will set the tempo. Watch out for bean balls, as these two teams have had a history of going after each other, especially against Pirates MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen. Both teams want that Wild Card game to be at their ballpark, which will make this the most exciting series of the weekend.