Pirates Watch: NL Wild Card
Pirates to host Giants for the NL Wild Card game
Proud champions of an 88-74 regular season record and winners of 17 games in the month of September, the Pittsburgh Pirates will come into Wednesday’s matchup against the San Francisco Giants (88-74) riding high.
Much of their recent success has been due to the electric right arm of Edinson Volquez, who currently has a scoreless inning streak of 18, and has given up only 10 earned runs in his last 10 starts. Volquez, the team leader among qualified pitchers in ERA (3.04), wins (13), innings pitched (192.2), and WHIP (1.23), will get the nod against Giants ace, Madison Bumgarner. The hard throwing lefty finished 2014 going 18-10 with a 2.98 ERA setting career highs in wins, innings pitched (217.1), strikeouts (219), complete games (4), and shutouts (2). Bumgarner can be expected to throw four pitches and lean heavily on his slider. He has no reservations about throwing the pitch to righties, and loves to use his deceptive delivery to throw it for a backdoor early count strike. Bumgarner has thrown his slider for a strike 71% of the time this season.
The Pirates, however, have had success against lefties this year owning a 20-13 record. Bumgarner was no exception, as he struggled in his only start against the Pirates giving up 5 runs on 6 hits, and was forced to exit after only four innings of work. The Giants ace comes into this game off of a poor start, giving up four runs in 7 1/3 innings allowing three homeruns. Home runs seemed to be his lone Achilles heel, as his total amounted to 21 for the season. The matchup with the Pirates poses problems for Bumgarner, who will have to face one of two lineups in baseball (Colorado Rockies) to have 9 players hit at least 10 home runs.
One of those 9 players, Jordy Mercer, is one of baseball’s finest specialists against left handed pitching. Mercer followed up his 2013 campaign where he hit .410/.460/.692 with a very reputable slash line of .314/.349/.455. Mercer will have a great opportunity to break his 4 for 34 slump on Wednesday. For the Pirates to succeed, Mercer will have to act as a catalyst for the team to make their second ever trip to the NLDS.
Other notables in the Pirates lineup include the incredibly hot trio of Starling Marte, Travis Snider and Josh Harrison. Starling Marte seems to have found his health hitting .348 since the all-star break. This is good for second in the National League among players with at least 150 at bats. Travis Snider’s coming out party may have been delayed a few years, but it appears he has finally arrived slugging .524 in the second half good for third on the Pirates behind only Marte (.567) and Harrison (.528).
Harrison’s unlikely heroics have undoubtedly lifted the Pirates into the playoffs this year. A contender for the batting title up until the very last game of the season, Harrison has been promoted from super utility man to everyday starting third basemen, thanks to the struggles and foot injury to Pedro Alvarez. Harrison is in a class of 2 Pirates who will likely finish in the top 5 votes for MVP this year along with Andrew McCutchen.
Another player more than deserving to receive MVP votes, Russell Martin, missed the last 2 games of the season due to hamstring discomfort. Martin is expected to play, but the team as of has made no announcement on his status yet. The health of the star catcher may be the most important factor for the Pirates, going forward, if they are to make a deep run into the playoffs.
10 teams have asked destiny to dance at the end of October, and only time will tell if her choice will be the Pirates. ESPN will broadcast the game on Wednesday and first pitch is scheduled for 8:07 pm.
Written by: Robert Sable