For the second straight year, the Pittsburgh Pirates find themselves in the National League wild-card game. A year ago, they beat the Cincinnati Reds to advance to the NLDS, and they hope to do the same thing in the 2014 MLB Playoffs against the San Francisco Giants.
Last season, the Pirates shocked much of the baseball world by winning 94 games and making the postseason for the first time in 21 years, breaking a playoff drought that was only matched by the Kansas City Royals. The 2013 Pirates made the postseason on the strength of their pitching, but this year’s team has one of the best lineups in the NL.
In the regular season, Pittsburgh ranked fourth in the NL with 682 runs, marking the first time in 11 years that the team has finished ahead of ninth overall. The Pirates also ranked second in on-base percentage and third with 156 total home runs.
Pittsburgh is led by two of the best hitters in baseball. Leadoff hitter Josh Harrison finished in second for the batting title, hitting for a .315 average to go along with a .490 slugging percentage. Reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen made a strong case to win the award for a second consecutive year. He ended the regular season ranked first in OPS, third in batting and eighth in home runs.
To go along with their lineup, the Pirates will send Edinson Volquez to the mound. The right-hander is a candidate to win the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award. After pitching to a 5.71 ERA last season, Volquez had the best season of his career, going 13-7 with a 3.04 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP.
In the last two months of the season, Volquez has been one of the best pitchers in MLB. After posting a 2.11 ERA in six starts in August, he nearly cut that number in half, pitching to a 1.08 ERA in September with a WHIP under 1.00.
Volquez is facing a San Francisco team that was one of the World Series favorites earlier in the year, but slowed down in the second half. Through 70 games, the Giants had the best record in the Majors and led the Los Angeles Dodgers by 6.5 games in the NL West. San Francisco went four games under .500 over the course of the remainder of the season, finishing six games out of first place and tied for the worst record of any playoff team.
The Giants rank seventh in the NFL with a 3.50 ERA and fifth with 665 runs. The year before McCutchen was named the NL MVP, the award went to Buster Posey. In the regular season, the catcher led the Giants in almost every statistical category. He hit .311 with 22 home runs and 89 RBI, leading the team with a .364 on-base percentage and a .490 slugging percentage as well.
Madison Bumgarner will take the hill on Wednesday night at PNC Park. He finished fourth in the NL with 18 wins, registering a 2.98 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. Only three NL starters threw more than his 217.1 innings pitched.
Even though Pittsburgh is at home, San Francisco has been named the favorites at Las Vegas casinos. The betting odds have the Giants at -114, while the Pirates’ moneyline comes in at +104. The Pirates were tied in the NL for the best home record at 51-30.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 5, San Francisco 2