Following a three-game sweep at Great American Ballpark, the Pittsburgh Pirates have returned home to PNC Park for at least one more game before the season is over. The Cincinnati Reds, coming off of that exact same sweep, are also heading east to PNC Park. After the Pirates guaranteed themselves home-field advantage for the Wild Card game, Reds manager Dusty Baker decided to not pitch ace Johnny Cueto on Sunday so he could pitch Tuesday night. Baker seems to have the right idea; the Pirates don’t hit well against Cueto.
It’s difficult to tell what the Pirates’ problem is with hitting Cueto. Maybe it is his Luis Tiant-like windup he uses, turning his back to the batter and hiding the ball exceptionally well. Maybe his pitches are just too difficult to hit for the Pirates. Sometimes the pitcher is just better than the hitter, and that may be the case here.
The Pirates’ batters, not including pitchers, hit for a .209/.285/.344 slash line against Cueto as a whole. Even though there aren’t a lot of hitters in the Pirates’ lineup that hit Cueto well, there are a few that are decent against him. Garrett Jones has a .282/.349/.513 line against him, but he isn’t even in the lineup on Tuesday night. Pirates’ superstar center fielder Andrew McCutchen has hit Cueto for a .231/.333/.513 line with three home runs. Other than that, the Pirates have only one other player that does well against the Reds’ ace. I’m saving an entire paragraph for him because he has ridiculous numbers against Cueto.
Marlon Byrd, one of the newest Pirates, absolutely owns Cueto. If he is able to do enough damage to win the game tonight for the Pirates, he will be the best trade acquisition of the season in all of MLB. In just 12 at-bats, a very small sample size, Byrd has seven hits and a home run. He has a .583/.643/.917 slash line. That equals a 1.560 OPS. To put a 1.560 OPS into perspective, we can compare it to the best hitter in baseball this season. Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers was arguably the best pure hitter, with a combination of on-base skills and power, in MLB this season and last season. His OPS in 2013 was 1.078. Byrd is basically a baseball-hitting robot against Cueto. If the Pirates are to advance to the NLDS, they are going to need a shutdown performance from starting pitcher Francisco Liriano and they will need a huge game from Byrd.