The regular season has come to a close and now the best teams in baseball will contend for the World Series. Each matchup is intriguing, but the wildcard games are on a different level since they’re only one game. This years’ NL wild card game between the San Francisco Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park is no exception.
San Francisco Giants Keys to Victory:
- Madison Bumgarner- The Giants will be sending their ace to the mound for this game and they couldn’t have asked for a better pitcher for this situation. A tall lefty who can bring heat, Bumgarner won’t be intimidated by the crowd since he’s had experience in high-stake situations like this before. Surprisingly, his biggest worry in the Pirates lineup should be Josh Harrison, not Andrew McCutchen. Harrison has been excellent against the Giants ace, going 4 for 5 with 1 HR while McCutchen has gone a below-average 2 for 10 against him.
- Experienced Batters– A pitching gem from Bumgarner won’t mean anything if the Giants can’t get runs on the board. Fortunately, the Giants lineup has enough veteran players who’ve been in this position before. If Hunter Pence and Buster Posey find their pitches, the lineup should be able to follow suit.
- Patience– The Giants are heading into hostile territory in Pittsburgh. This doesn’t mean they’ll be intimidated, but they could become over-aggressive at the plate which would play right into the Pirates hands. The lineup and Bumgarner need to stay poised and not let the high-stakes force them to overcommit. The team that stays more composed will win this game and the Giants need to remember that.
Pittsburgh Pirates Keys to Victory:
- Home Field Advantage– Though the crowd won’t shake Bumgarner they will excite their home team and with the Pirates at 12-4 in their last 16 starts at home they have every reason to be confident in their abilities at PNC Park. It’s not a huge advantage, but any little ground the Pirates can get over the Giants will be crucial in this game.
- Edinson Volquez– He may not have the “ace” reputation that other pitchers have, but his 9-1 record with a 1.85 ERA in his last 10 starts can’t be overlooked. He’s certainly reinvented himself since his disastrous outing with the Padres a few years ago. However, his FIP and xFIP are a full run higher than his ERA so it will be important for Volquez to pitch his best and keep command of his pitches. The Giants have a few key injuries in their roster so Volquez needs to take advantage of the lack of Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro and do everything he can to avoid pitching to Pence and Posey in critical situations.
- Josh Harrison– I’ve mentioned the danger Harrison brings to this game earlier but it can’t be mentioned enough. His .315 regular season batting average and recent success against Giants ace Bumgarner make him the key player to watch on the Pirates lineup. Harrison needs to get on base if the Pirates want to win this game. The Giants will most likely try to pitch around perennial MVP candidate McCutchen so it will be up to Harrison to get the offense going. A different scenario could play out, but Harrison batting against Bumgarner statistically gives the Pirates the best advantage which is why Harrison will need to lead the offense this game.
Prediction: Both teams are evenly matched in virtually all categories which means this should be an exciting game, just as the playoffs are meant to be. Though it won’t provide as much drama as the Royals comeback against the A’s last night, look for San Francisco to spoil Pittsburgh’s homecoming with a pitching clinic from a focused, unfazed Bumgarner and a few key hits from the Giants lineup as the Giants ace outduels an inspired Volquez with the scoreboard reading 3-2 Giants after 9 innings.