The Pittsburgh Pirates host the San Francisco Giants Wednesday night (Oct. 1) at PNC Park for the chance to play the Washington Nationals in the NLDS. Although the paths to the postseason were very different for both of these teams, this couldn’t be more of an unpredictable game. Given the tone set by the AL Wild Card game Tuesday night, the bar is set very high.
Madison Bumgarner (18-10, 2.98 ERA) will be taking the mound for the Giants. On the surface, one would easily give the pitching edge to San Fran. His veteran arm is one of the most consistent in the national league and has plenty of postseason experience as this is going to be his seventh playoff start. But Bumgarner has never had to pitch in a one and done scenario. Edinson Volquez (13-7, 3.04 ERA) has one postseason game under his belt with the Cincinnati Reds and only last an inning and two-thirds due to injury. This is why haste cannot be made when assessing the quality of pitching likely to occur in this game. Bumgarner needs this win to show his strength under pressure, yet Volquez knows this opportunity may be his last. To have an impressive clutch and decisive game, gives him that reassurance that he belongs.
The Pirates won the regular season series against the Giants winning four of the six games played (two at home and two on the road). Pittsburgh’s offense played a major role in those wins, including a shut out, 5-0 win over Bumgarner in July. It’s expected that Andrew McCutchen will have his bat in motion, but the ex-factor certainly has to be the play of Josh Harrison (3B). He’s emerged as one of the most explosive players in the league, not just for the Pirates. Harrison ended the season with a 3.15 batting average and this should be a concern for San Fran.
Although Pablo Sandoval will be entering the game on a 10 game postseason hitting streak, the Giants are going to be without their lead off Angel Pagan and Michael Morse in left field. Those guys are crucial to their offense and lineup and were part of the reason the San Francisco offense struggled in the months of July and August.
This game is going to be made on mechanics and offense. If Volquez can hold the Giants at bay for a deep stretch in this game, the Pirates have a good enough offense to make the difference in runs. His pitch count will need to stay as low as possible. He needs to strive for at least 7 good innings. Bumgarner on the other hand must limit the production from the Pirates lineup, especially the top of it. Harrison has 18 steals on the season, majority from the leadoff spot. If Bumgarner allows the top of that Pirates lineup to get hot, he’s going to be in a world of trouble and a long night ahead of him.
Each of these teams wants to move forward to see the Nationals this weekend. Each of them has an equal shot at this point. However, someone has to lose and PNC Park is going to be rocking. This will be the second straight one and done appearance for the Pirates. The Giants may have more postseason experience, but Pittsburgh knows what it takes to win a one game playoff. They will be riding the momentum of their strong regular season finish, and that crowd will be behind them from start to finish.
PREDICTION: BUCCS WIN 5-3