Wildcard Preview: Reds at Pirates

Starting Pitchers: Johnny Cueto vs. Francisco Liriano Reds Lineup (RHH/LHH/Switch)

  1. Shin-Soo Choo
  2. Ryan Ludwick
  3. Joey Votto
  4. Brandon Phillips
  5. Jay Bruce
  6. Todd Frazier
  7. Zack Cozart
  8. Ryan Hanigan
  9. Johnny Cueto

Pirates Lineup (RHH/LHH/Switch)

  1. Starling Marte
  2. Neil Walker
  3. Andrew McCutchen
  4. Justin Morneau
  5. Marlon Byrd
  6. Pedro Alvarez
  7. Russell Martin
  8. Clint Barmes
  9. Francisco Liriano

What to watch for: 

There's two superstars to pay attention to, Joey Votto and Andrew McCutchen. How they perform in this one game will be scrutinized but there are other factors at play in this matchup.

By its very nature the playoffs are a beast completely removed from the long sample size of the regular season. Small sample sizes are king in the postseason which tends to give them the perception that ultimately the playoffs are a crap shoot. There's a lot of luck involved in the postseason but I also think that managers who can take advantage of platoon splits and the depth of their bench tend to rule October.

We saw an example of this last night when Ron Washington pulled lefty Martin Perez in the 6th so that Alexi Ogando could face a righty heavy section of the lineup only to see Joe Maddon make the corresponding move and pinch hit David DeJesus for Sean Rodriguez who hit a key double and plated a big insurance run.

One of these managers used his bench and advanced. The other did not and is facing an uncertain future in Texas.

Enter Clint Hurdle and Dusty Baker. While we'll never have enough information to make a true evaluation on what a manager does behind closed doors to deal with all of the issues that arise in a clubhouse we do have adequate information to evaluate each manager from a tactical perspective. Neither manager is on the level that Joe Maddon is in that regard and Dusty Baker is facing a particularly tough challenge in a win or go home situation.

Choo, a lefty with a .215/.347/.265 slash line against same sided pitching in 221 PAs this year, hits leadoff for this team no matter who is on the mound, however. The Reds have faced lefties 47 times this year and Choo's been the leadoff man for 35 of those games. The OBP is still solid enough against the average left hander but Liriano is not that.

Francisco Liriano is having an historic year against lefties. In 138 PAs left-handed hitters are putting up a .131/.175/.146 slash line with 2 XBH (both doubles). Liriano has absolutely murdered left handed batters this season. This creates a match up issue for Choo.

Baker is set in his lineup ways, which is fine over the course of a 162 game season but it can, and will, be a liability in the shortest of samples where splits are exploitable.

Clint Hurdle has a checkered past as a tactician but he's been a little bit more flexible with regards to his lineup construction. Having a player like McCutchen in the middle of it all helps a great deal. The Pirates are aggressive with their defensive shifting, something Hurdle has embraced this year as the Pirates grew out their analytics department.

Given the bullpen construction of both teams I expect this game to be tight. In a situation like that the biggest X factor is of course, Billy Hamilton.

Hamilton has game changing speed and he can be the difference in a high leverage situation. Dusty isn't shy about giving the speedster the green light to steal any base he wishes. Hamilton can drastically alter the trajectory of this game on the basepaths and for that reason alone I pick the Reds to win and advance.