Playoff Reset: The National League Wild Card Game

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The Game: San Francisco Giants vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, National League Wild Card Game
The Time: 8:00 PM Eastern
The Place: PNC Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The Channel: ESPN
The Starters: Madison Bumgarner vs. Edinson Volquez

The Upshot:

  • I’d say something snarky about how throwing Edinson Volquez out there in a win-or-go-home game is a fool’s errand, but after watching a Jon Lester-James Shields matchup turn into a crazy, bullpen-heavy game in which 17 runs were scored, we should probably know now that you can’t predict anything about this crazy game. Other than it’s amazing and wonderful and no amount of pre-game analysis matters when randomness rules the baseball universe. That said: if you told me that a team had Edinson Volquez on the hill when it’s fighting for its continued playoff life, I’d say you’re smart to have money on the other team.
  • Of course, this is not exactly the same Edinson Volquez we’ve seen for the past few years. He went from someone getting shelled on a regular basis during his stints with the Padres, Dodgers and Reds to a fairly reliable guy in 2014, posting a 3.04 ERA in 32 games. The Giants have historically hit him well, but that history all came before this year. More recently, Volquez is 5-0 with a 1.64 ERA in his last 11 starts. For him, it all seems to be about his mechanics, which in the past have been erratic. Whether it’s the Pirates’ coaching staff or Russell Martin’s steady hand behind the plate, Volquez has been a different guy this year.
  • There’s way less uncertainty on the other side of the matchup. Madison Bumgarner is the Giants’ ace, and he’s a good one at that. He was 18-10 this year with a 2.98 ERA and he strikes out a batter an inning. He has pitched in two World Series before, so the moment is not going to rattle him. Pirates’ lefties Ike Davis and Gregory Polanco should finalize their will. Starling Marte, on the other hand, has destroyed lefties and the two most important bats for Pittsburgh — Andrew McCutchen and Martin — bat from the right, so it’s not the worst possible matchup for the Pirates.
  • The crowd is going to be crazy. We saw this last year when the Pirates faced the Reds in the Wild Card Game and again in the NLDS against the Cardinals. The Giants are a veteran team who has been there and done that, but it should be a pretty electric atmosphere. It’s probably no accident that the Pirates are one of the best teams at home in all of baseball. Of course, Bumgarner is a good road pitcher.
  • I have a hard time seeing Volquez not be overly-amped at the start of this game and so I feel the pitching matches up way better for San Francisco. But it’s also the fact that the best players on offense are on the Pirates’ side of the ledger with McCutchen and Marte and that, after Buster Posey, the Giants’ offensive weapons have been a lot more erratic this year, especially in the second half.

This is a true pick ’em game, maybe even more than the Royals-A’s game was. But if we learned anything from that game, it’s that pickin’ ’em in a one-game playoff is a sucker’s game.

Pirates hire Ben Cherington as their new general manager

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The Pittsburgh Pirates have hired Ben Cherington as the team’s new general manager. They do so after the general manager meetings ended, but better late than never.

Cherington served as GM of the Boston Red Sox for four years, winning the World Series in 2013, but resigned during the 2015 season after Dave Dombrowski was named Boston’s new president of baseball operations. Which was a defacto demotionn for Cherington who, until then, had the final say in baseball decisions. Dombrowski, of course, was fired late in the season this year. Cherington went on to work for the Toronto Blue Jays as a vice president, but was seen as biding his time for another GM position. Now he has one.

Cherington takes over in Pittsburgh for executive vice president and general manager Neal Huntington, who was fired after a 12 years at the helm. Also fired was team president Frank Coonelly. Travis Williams replaced Coonelly recently. While the Pirates experienced a few years of contention under Huntington and Coonelly, they have slid out of contention in recent years as the club has traded away promising players for little return, all while cutting payroll. There’s a very big rebuilding job ahead of Cherington.

The first move he’ll have to make: hire a manager, as the team still hasn’t replaced Clint Hurdle since he was dismissed in the final weekend of the regular season.