For the San Francisco Giants, a bad year seems to be followed by winning the world series, so expectations are high towards their NL Wild Card game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team that’s not used to consistency when it comes to making the postseason.
Yet here they are: The Pirates make it out of the NL Central for a second straight year, hosting the game. They’ll start with Edinson Volquez, the 31-year old Dominican rightie who loves to throw the breaking ball, following a 13-7 season with a 3.04 ERA. He had a strong September, starting in five games and winning the two decisions. He allowed four runs in 33.1 innings while striking out 31. He had 10 strikeouts on his last appearance against the Atlanta Braves.
Against the Giants? He has two hitters that are a problem for him: Brandon Belt and Buster Posey. They have just one combined home run against him, but are 13-of-27 against him at the plate, just under .500. Volquez uses his curve ball a lot, especially on a two-pitch count (37.4%). However, the Giants struck out 27% of the time on a curve ball, the lowest ratio in the National League, which might give him a problem.
Buster Posey is especially successful against that throw, with a .830 OPS on plate appearances ending with a curve ball, 185 points higher than the league average. He is listed as day to day, but it’s hard to believe he won’t be playing. He’s hitting .311 this season with 22 home runs and 89 RBIs, and has a career OPS of 1.361 when facing Volquez, his “favorite” of the Pirates pitchers.
The Giants will start with Madison Bumgarner on the mound. He has a 18-10 record this season with a 2.98 ERA. His big weapon is the fastball up and using the slider. He allowed just .107 on at-bats that ended with a fastball up, which is something the Pirates have a problem with, hitting just .210 on those, which is below the league average. However, Andrew McCutchen might be a problem for Bumgarner: He slugged .507 this season on at-bats that ended with that throw, fifth-best in the National League. He isn’t very good against the slider, hitting only .216 against sliders that go 87 mph or stronger.
With all the preparation for the starting pitchers, it might be the relief crew that decides everything. We saw 17 runs scored in the first Wild Card game between the A’s and the Royals. The Giants are entering this game with the experience of a core that won the World Series in 2012 and a few guys that were also there for the championship in 2010. It’s another even year and although the Giants don’t have momentum on their side, elimination games have proven to be their thing.