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Big League Stew

NL wild card preview: Reds and Pirates play one more time with the stakes a lot higher

Mike Oz
Big League Stew

If it seems to you that the Pittsburgh Pirates have been battling the Cincinnati Reds every day for the past month, we wouldn't blame you. They've been locked in a tight race for the NL Central, then for the NL wild cards. And they played six times in September.

We can assure you, however, that Tuesday's NL wild-card game will be the last time these two teams play this season.

The Pirates swept the Reds in the final three games of the season in Cincinnati to cement their top wild-card spot in the NL, giving them home-field in Tuesday's game. So now, after a day off and a change of scenery, the two teams meet again.

This time, the winner moves on to face another familiar foe, the NL Central-winning St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS. The loser joins 20 other teams who are now preparing for next season.

PARTICULARS: First pitch is at 8:07 p.m. ET at Pittsburgh's PNC Park. The game airs live on TBS, with pregame coverage beginning at 7 p.m. ET. Check out the Reds' 25-man roster for Tuesday, as well as the Pirates' roster.


PITCHERS: Johnny Cueto (5-2, 2.82) takes the mound for the Reds, against Francisco Liriano (16-8, 3.02 ERA) for the Pirates. Cueto faced the Pirates twice this season, but not since May 31. He got a no-decision on April 13, going 4 1/3 innings and giving up two hits and one run. On May 31, he held the Pirates to only one hit in eight innings and struck out six in a 6-0 Reds win. But forget the Pirates, Cueto is out for postseason redemption this time.

Liriano, meanwhile has faced the Reds four times this season and he's 0-3 with a 3.70 ERA in those games. His best start against Cincinnati was his last one. He pitched eight innings and gave two runs on three hits on Sept. 20. This is important, though: Liriano is 8-1 with a 1.47 ERA this season at PNC Park.

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PREVIOUSLY: With the three-game sweep the Pirates finished on Sunday, they improved their record against these 2013 Reds to 11-8. So, the two teams were 8-8 before that final Bucco barrage. The Reds, in fact, won 2-of-3 from the Pirates earlier in September.

THE PIRATES NEED TO WATCH OUT FOR: Todd Frazier. He's hit two homers off Liriano this season. He and Brandon Phillips are the only Reds with three hits against him. Oh, and it's always a good idea to keep an eye on rookie speedster Billy Hamilton. Even if he's just sitting in the dugout eating sunflower seeds.

THE REDS NEED TO WATCH OUT FOR: Andrew McCutchen is the most valuable Pirate, but the Reds need to fear the Pittsburgh bullpen too. Dubbed "The Shark Tank," the Pirates crop of relievers have the best bullpen ERA in the NL at 2.89 and a number of arms ready to chomp away if the Pirates get a lead. Among them: Mark Melancon, Jason Grilli, Vin Mazzaro and Justin Wilson.

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(USA Today)

.090 — That's what Reds lefties Joey Votto, Shin-Soo Choo and Jay Bruce are hitting against Liriano this season coming into Tuesday's game.

.500 — Joey Votto's on-base percentage against the Pirates this year. And that's despite only getting two hits in 10 at-bats against Liriano.

.617 — The Pirates' winning percentage at home this season.

2 — the run-differential between these two teams in their 19 games this season. The Pirates lead 73-71. Close much?

7,657 — Days since the Pirates last won a playoff game in Pittsburgh. No pressure or anything, guys.

The postseason is upon us. Spend it with The Stew.
Follow @MikeOz and @bigleaguestew, on Twitter, along with the BLS Facebook page.

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