The culmination of patience that’s been realized leading up to the first game of the 2013 MLB playoffs tonight is truly unbelievable. Not only have baseball fans alike been waiting for the start of this year’s playoffs for a few months now, the city of Pittsburgh will host its first playoff game in 21 years when the Pirates take on the division rival Cincinnati Reds. These teams have played six times in the last two weeks and will play one more time for the right to move on and play the class of the NL Central, St. Louis Cardinals, in a five game set beginning Thursday. The Pirates earned home field advantage for the Wildcard Game and will throw Francisco Liriano at PNC Park against fellow countryman Johnny Cueto. The Pirates open up as -125 favorites with a low total of 6.5 in what should be a pitcher’s duel.
With these two teams so familiar with one another, the only real piece of uncertainty in this one is Reds’ starting pitcher Johnny Cueto. Cueto entered the season as the prospective ace of the Cincinnati staff before going down with an injury late in June. Cueto returned in September but has only made two starts since returning from the injury that sidelined him for all of July and August. The good news for Reds’ fans is that Cueto has looked sharp since returning, surrendering just one earned run in 12 innings. The problem is that those two starts came against the New York Mets and Houston Astros. The Pirates offense is slightly less than prolific but this spot won’t compare in much of anything to what Cueto faced against the lowly Mets and ‘Stros. Look for Dusty Baker to have a relatively short leash with Cueto, much like Ron Washington had with Martin Perez last night in Texas. That shouldn’t be a huge problem for the Reds, who have one of the strongest bullpens and overall pitching staff in the league. Almost everybody on Cincy’s staff figures to be available in some role or another tonight in Pittsburgh.
For the Pirates, Francisco Liriano goes in a spot that favors his two most extreme splits. Liriano has been nearly unhittable at PNC Park this year. The left-hander has posted an 8-1 record with an ERA of just 1.47 in his 11 home starts. He also figures to see many left-handed hitters with Joey Votto, Shin-Soo Choo and Jay Bruce all regulars in the Cincinnati lineup coming up from the left side of the plate. Lefties have just managed a .175 on-base percentage against Liriano this season, which bodes well for the Pirates tonight.
I don’t expect many runs in this one whatsoever but the total of 6.5 clearly reflects that. With the distinct possibility of both teams scraping across three runs and then going over the 6.5, I will stay away from the under. I do like Pittsburgh in this spot at home with the more in-tune pitcher on the hill. The Pirates have been slightly better than Cincinnati all season and they will be fired up to play this game at home in front of their fans that have waited so long for this game.
Free Pick: Pittsburgh -125