This year's National League Wild Card Game, only the second in the history of the sport as the Wild Card Game was introduced by Commissioner Bud Selig last year, will be played between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds. The two division rivals battled the St. Louis Cardinals for the Central Division title up until two days before the end of the regular season, but had to settle for the Wild Cards after the Cardinals clinched last Friday.
The teams met in the final three games of the regular season, in which the Pirates secured home field advantage for the one-game playoff. They swept the Reds to maintain their lead in the standings. Playing the game in their own PNC Park is a definite advantage for the Buccos as they sport a 52-31 home record, while the Reds have had a harder time on the road, as shown by their 41-43 road record.
In the regular season the teams met 19 times and ended up with a record of 11-8 in favor of the Pirates. That both teams are very evenly matched shows up in the fact that 15 out of 19 games were decided by a margin of three runs or less.
Regular season results
It has been a special season for the fans in Pittsburgh as they not only saw their team reach their first winning season since 1992, they even clinched a postseason berth. For the third straight year they got off to a hot start, but unlike the previous two seasons they managed to stick around after the All-Star Game this year. Their best players were center fielder Andrew McCutchen (MVP candidate), catcher and new acquisition Russell Martin and also newly acquired starting pitcher Francisco Liriano.
Trade deadline acquisitions Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd played big roles in the second half and helped the Buccos stay hot. The Reds, meanwhile, were expected from the start to contend in de NL Central and lived up to expectations. Once again Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce carried the lineup, while Shin-Soo Choo was a welcome addition as the new leadoff hitter. Mat Latos filled in for the oft-injured Johnny Cueto and became the ace of the team.
Johnny Cueto (5-2, 2.82 ERA) – Francisco Liriano (16-7, 2.88 ERA)
With both lineups unharmed by injuries, the pitching matchup will have the biggest impact on this game. So if you are thinking about placing a bet on this game here comes the most important information. As you can tell from their ERAs both Cueto and Liriano had very successful seasons. Liriano has always been viewed as a very talented pitcher, but after a few bad seasons he was nothing more than a scrapheap pickup by the Buccos. Cueto on the other hand has been the Reds ace for multiple seasons now, but was bothered by injuries midway through the season.
Quietly, Liriano may have been the one guy that gave the Pirates the push they needed to keep up pace with the Cardinals en Reds. He's been especially effective in homegames sporting an 8-1 record and a 1.47 ERA in PNC Park. Johnny Cueto, just like the Reds in general, has better home than road splits. In two starts in Pittsburgh though he is 1-0 this year with a 0.73 ERA. Both teams have a shutdown bullpen with good closers (Grilli for Pittsburgh and Chapman for Cincinnati) at the top. Expect a very close game with most damage done in the first few innings and possibly extra innings.
Pirates Favorite at -128
Based on the regular season matchups and the probable pitchers the edge in this one-game playoff goes to Pittsburgh. They come into this game with their ace on the mound and riding a hot streak. This edge definitely shows up in the betting lines. The Pirates are the clear cut favorites with a -128 betting line, whereas the Reds are listed as +118.
If you want to spice things up and bet on the total runs in the game the over/under is at 6.5 runs. Both over and under have a line of -110. With this pitching matchup and both teams carrying well rested shutdown bullpens into the postseason, chances are there will be less than 6.5 runs scored. This game will most likely be very close, but the wise bet seems to be a Pirates win in under 6.5 total runs scored.