Sure, the Cincinnati Reds ended their regular-season by being swept by the Pittsburgh Pirates in Cincinnati, but that does not mean that the Pirates are going to beat them tonight in the National League’s single-elimination Wild Card game in Pittsburgh. This is especially true when the Reds have an ace like Johnny Cueto starting on the mound. Cueto gives the Reds a good chance to earn a win tonight and eliminate the Pirates from the playoffs.
Cueto was on the disabled list for 10 weeks with a pulled muscle in his side. He was able to make it back for two starts in September, in which he pitched 12 innings and allowed eight hits and only one earned run. A scout who had seen one of those starts said Cueto pitched well and did not look like he had been hurt. Cueto is the Reds’ best pitcher, though injuries have slowed him down this season. He is 5-2 on the year with a 2.82 ERA and 51 strikeouts. He has a 1.05 ERA with runners in scoring position. Cueto is on top of his game when he is healthy and can be virtually unstoppable.
Overall, the Pirates do look to have the edge in this game, but anything can happen. A good outing by Cueto could keep the Pirates from advancing in the playoffs, despite any edge they may have over the Reds. It is their first playoff game since 1992, it’s in Pittsburgh, and the Pirates have one of the best bullpens in baseball. The Atlanta Braves were the only team that had a better bullpen ERA than the Pirates. The Pirates also lead the National League in saves with 55. Their starting pitcher, Francisco Liriano, can be unpredictable but he has a 16-8 record this season with a 3.02 ERA and a .224 batting average against him. Liriano has an ERA of 1.47 at home this season as well. Left-handed hitters have a .131 batting average against him with only two extra-base hits and no home runs.
The Reds’ Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Shin-Soo Choo all bat left-handed, and they are three of the Reds’ best hitters. Votto and Bruce happen to hit well against lefties, but Choo does not and he is a big playmaker at the top of the Reds’ batting order. The rest of the lineup may have to get things going if Choo is not able to do so against Liriano.
Cueto gives the Reds the best chance for a win. He looks to be healthy, and if so that could be bad news for the Pirates as he will be on top of his game. The Reds may have plenty against them in this game, but anything can happen in October, especially when you have your ace pitcher on the mound.