The playoffs start today, technically, with the Reds and Pirates in a do-or-die game
On the National League side, the Reds and Pirates are the ones squaring off in a one-game do-or-die game. The winner will play the St. Louis Cardinals, who beat out both of these teams to win the NL Central.
Francisco Liriano, who has had a rather impressive season, will start for the Pirates when they host the Reds tonight at PNC Park. Liriano went 16-8 in 2013 with a 3.02 ERA, a 1.22 WHIP, and he struck out 163 in 161 innings.
Liriano has been especially dominant at home for the Pirates, going 8-1 with a 1.47 ERA at PNC Park this year. That having been said, he has struggled a bit as of late, with a 5.14 ERA in the month of September.
This year against the Reds, Liriano has had some issues, going 0-3 with a 3.70 ERA. The Pirates have lost all 4 games that Liriano has started against the Reds.
The ESPN experts have unanimously picked the Pirates, despite Liriano's struggles, and also despite the fact that Reds starter Johnny Cueto has been masterful against the Pirates in his career.
Cueto is 5-2 with a 2.82 ERA this year, albeit in only 11 starts. Cueto missed considerable time this year due to injury, after finishing 4th in NL Cy Young voting in 2012.
In his career, Cueto is 13-4 against the Pirates with a 2.70, including an 8-2 record and 1.90 ERA all-time at PNC Park. That having been said, this year's Pirates team is considerably better than the ones that Cueto has seen over the years.
This year, Cueto is 1-0 against the Bucs in 2 starts, and has a 0.73 ERA against them.
Should either one of these starters falter, the Reds and Pirates could use almost any pitcher on their roster, since this is an absolute must-win game for both of them. AJ Burnett is the Pirates' projected starter in Game 1 of the NLDS if they make it that far, so one would assume that he's off limits, but everyone else would theoretically be available at some point, if necessary.
For the Reds, they'll try to win without Tony Cingrani and Mat Latos, both of whom are fighting injury issues. Virtually everyone else on their staff will be available, however.
My prediction: I think the Reds will find a way to win this one, and I think Cueto will pitch extremely well. Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce et al will find a way to get to Liriano, and the Reds will move on to the NLDS against the Cardinals.