In the course of about three hours this afternoon, the Pirates managed to more or less guarantee that they'll be in next Tuesday's wild card game, and prove why such a game is so terrifying.
What happened this afternoon was that the Pirates didn't hit very well (a recurring theme) and Francisco Liriano didn't quite have his best stuff. It seemed like that was going to be fine, until he hit a wall in the sixth and served up a three-run homer to Darnell McDonald. I don't think I'd say Liriano was bad, just that he wasn't quite perfect and that was enough to lose.
That's the looming horror of the wild card game, of course. There's no padding if a starter isn't quite right or a shortstop boots a ball. It's one and done, which means that not even being the best team on the field that day will guarantee a berth in the NLDS. It's really terrifying, and with the Pirates' loss this afternoon coupled with the Cardinals' win, it's almost assuredly the Pirates' future.
What's most frustrating about this loss is that the Reds also lost to the Mets this afternoon, which means that if the Pirates had found a way to beat the Cubs, they would've headed into Cincinnati this weekend with a two-game lead on the Reds for home field advantage in the wild card game. That extra game is huge, because the tiebreaker for home field is head-to-head record and the Pirates and Reds are 8-8 against each other this year. That means that even though the Pirates the have a one game lead on Cincy right now, the two teams are effectively tied for the wild card, because if Reds take two of three from the Pirates they'll host next week's game by virture of their 10-9 record against the Bucs.
Three games left. If the Pirates can win two, PNC Park will host a playoff game next Tuesday. If they can't win two, well, that won't matter if they win next Tuesday.
Why was Neil Walker attempting to lay down a sac bunt in the 1st inning? When I saw that and his two feeble attempts at it I had a feeling today's game was not going to be a fun one to watch.
Maybe today's loss will be helpful to Hurdle in one respect. I think he's second-guessing himself for not taking Liriano out of the game prior to Mcdonald's HR swing. If that sticks with him for a week perhaps he'll use his bullpen with gusto in the WC playoff game vs the Redlegs. Bruised egos in the playoffs need to be shrugged off for the betterment of the team. Had Frankie been pulled before it was too late we might have swept the Cubs in Wrigley for the 1st time in 13 years - that's crazy.
While certainly not ideal, not sure I agree about the idea of a Wild Card game in Cincy being "terrifying." Not to be a negative nelly but if they play in Cincy, then the Pirates finished 3rd. If you finish third, I'd consider them lucky to even be getting a playoff game. Not replacing the Jolly Roger with a Vogelsong (reference for us WHYGAVS old timers!) by a long shot but I'm happy the Pirates are back. Everything else is gravy.
@mwr505 To make a wildly generalized extrapolation, this is, in my view, another example of the Hurdle Paradox--over the course of a 162 games, he can be very good for a ballclub (there doesn't appear to be any of the toxicity of the Kendall/Giles era or the reign of Silent John Russell, where his "leadership" involved coaches and players carrying out palace coups to provide some sense of direction for the club), but in a short-series or a one-game winner-take-all his small-ball tendencies and odd bullpen usage can kill you.
Plus 1 MWR. What Hurdle and Searage were seeing I have no clue,as it was as plain as the nose on their face as to what was going to happen when they left Liriano in. My question right away was : why are you leaving him in ??? And I no more than got it out of my mouth when McDonald crushed that pitch.
@Carnegie Chip Agreed. If we finish third then we're ecstatic that there's another wild card now, right?
Actually I'm pretty much ok with the wild card playoff game, assuming you want to make it "important" to win the division. Every American sport says that's their goal, only baseball has now succeeded. Just look at the level of intensity over the last three weeks as all three teams were terrified of the wild card game, followed by the race to at least host the game.
CC : it's only terrifying if you would really like to see your favorite team advance in October's tourney. Just ask the Braves how terrifying it can be !