MLB Wildcard Playoff Preview


There are few things as thrilling and exciting as a ‘win or go home’ game in sports like the MLB Wild Card games. With the tiebreaker over and the real playoffs beginning, the stage is set for some historic franchises to make a run at World Series glory.

Here is a breakdown of the first round Wild Card one-game series:   

Cincinnati Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates

Tuesday 8:00 PM EST on TBS

By the time Johnny Cueto and Francisco Liriano take the mound, not many will remember the epic series of matchups of the 70s: The Big Red Machine & The Family. Both teams featured some of the most memorable teams of all-time. Or the teams of the early 90s, featuring Pittsburgh’s Barry Bonds and the Reds’ Nasty Boys.

Since that time the franchises took a turn for the worse and haven’t faced each other much in the playoffs, let alone been in the playoffs at all.

The Pirates haven’t been in the playoffs since 1992. Bad memories of Sid Bream and the loss of Barry Bonds still lingers. As possible MVP Andrew McCutchen says in the commercial, the goal is to “bring silver to the Steel City”. The Buccos are this year’s favorite Cinderella to watch.

The Reds haven’t been able to get out of the NLDS lately. In 2010, they were swept in the NLDS and in 2012 lost three straight at home. Something has to give.

Both teams are stacked with fun players to watch. There is the obvious Joey Votto vs. Andrew McCutchen poster boy showdown. There is the possibility that Dusty Baker could unleash the Flash, a.k.a. Billy Hamilton, who is capable of stealing on a whim. The Pirates have their own speedster in freshly healed and rested Starling Marte.

Plus there is there is the veterans showing they have some gas left in the tank. The Pirates have newly acquired Justin Morneau, who has already helped with some late game heroics. The Reds’ Brandon Phillips has been banged up lately but can still swing big.

The game will come down to the x-factor pitchers. Johnny Cueto came off the two and a half month stint on the DL in time to squeeze in a couple September starts. He did well, but is he playoff ready? Francisco Liriano has resurrected his career in Pittsburgh and has been nearly flawless during the second half. At home, Liriano has been 8-1 with a 1.47 era.

Advantage – Pirates

Dusty Baker once again goes home. He has a poor postseason record and Liriano at home has been unstoppable. Besides, McCutch is primed to become the newest Pirate legend.

Tampa Bay Rays @ Cleveland Indians

Wednesday 8 PM EST on TBS

In what could be described as the “Battle of the Underdogs”, the Indians host the Rays. Tampa Bay is fresh off surviving the tiebreaker Game 163 to get into the playoffs. Cleveland went from 94 loses last year to 92 wins this year. No one predicted they would make the playoffs when the season started.

Well, no one except Terry Francona, who quit an ESPN television gig to manage the lowly Tribe.

Even the pitching match-up features two of the least likely playoff starters … maybe ever.

Alex Cobb was on his way to a breakthrough year when he took a line drive off his head back in June. A lengthy stint on the DL with concussions seemed to have derailed his promising career. There really hasn’t been a baseball player that has regained such a production level after such a bad concussion.

For Cleveland, Danny Salazar is even a more unlikely ‘season on the line’ pitcher. Salazar wasn’t even the organization’s best prospect. He took everyone by surprise when he made his debut on July 11th. He pitched a gem, going 7.3 innings and striking out 10, including Miguel Cabrera three times. He kept it going with an 11.3 strikeout ratio all season long.

The Indians’ success may come down to two factors: the off-season acquisitions and the closer. Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher caused many analysts to scratch their head when the Indians signed them last winter. They ended up being pivotal pieces with both players providing deep production. The unsung signing may have been Yan Gomes, who took over behind the plate for the struggling Carlos Santana. They have complimented a budding core of Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis. There isn’t one big superstar on the roster but a team of overall good players.

Cleveland’s closer is still a bit of mystery. Justin Masterson seemed to have moved from the rotation to take over for the final regular season game. But will Francona repeat the success?

The Rays will be playing another do-or-die game after a week of playing for their lives. They seem to relish in the spot. With Evan Longoria, James Loney and Wil Myers all playing at their best lately, they seem primed to push past one more must-win game.

Advantage – Cleveland Indians

They don’t realize they aren’t supposed to be here yet. With the extra couple of days rest, their bullpen will be rested to take over if Salazar gets in over his head. It is time for the rest of the nation to know that “Cleveland Rocks” (that doesn’t not necessarily apply to the Bucks, Browns or the city itself).

No matter what, some October magic is in the air and at least one lucky underdog will play in the Division series in both leagues.  

Brian Reddoch is a CraveOnline reporter and rabid fan of all teams Seattle. You can follow him on Twitter @ReddReddoch or “like” CraveOnline Sports on Facebook

Photo Credit: Getty