NL Wild Card Preview – San Francisco Giants vs. Pittsburgh Pirates

Starling Marte Buster Posey

The last time the Giants and Pirates faced each other in a postseason game, it was a four-game NLCS in 1971. Roberto Clemente sparkled for the Pirates while Willie McCovey dazzled for the Giants. The last time these teams played in an elimination game was Game Four when the Giants blew a 5-2 lead in a 9-5 loss.

So even if all of their players were not born when this game happened, many Giants fans still remember and even with two World Championships in the last five years, it’s still a bad memory. The Pirates had 20 years of bad memories before ending their postseason drought last year.

After going the distance against the Cardinals after beating the Reds in the wild card game, the Pirates are looking for more.

That begins Wednesday night when the Pirates host the Giants in the National League wild card game

The Giants were unable to use Juan Marichal until Game Three in ’71 but have no problems with being unable to use their ace in this game. Madison Bumgarner and his sterling postseason track record take the mound in Wednesday night and he is coming off a career-high season with 18 wins and 219 strikeouts.

Bumgarner has gone 11-4 with a 2.22 ERA in 18 road starts and that adds to a resume that includes a pair of World Series victories.

“When the guy takes the ball, there’s that feeling that we’re going to win,” right-hander Ryan Vogelsong told reporters. “As a pitcher, that’s one of the best feelings you can have. I’ve had it here in the past where you can tell when you walk in the room that the guys are excited that you’re on the mound that day.”

It’s a sentiment shared by many and Bumgarner has the numbers this year and in two championship runs to make it stand.

Bumgarner is not the only experienced Giant. Besides Jake Peavy‘s experience with the 2013 World Champion Red Sox and Tim Hudson‘s time with playoff teams in Atlanta, six regular position players return from the last championship team including the trio of Hunter Pence, Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval.

That trio combined for a .288 average, 58 home runs, and 236 RBI.

While the Giants had a winning record all season, the Pirates were under .500 as recently as June 26. Pittsburgh also was 71-68 after opening September with three losses in St. Louis but went 17-6 down the stretch with big help from Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte.

McCutchen batted .378 with four home runs, 13 RBI, and 17 runs scored. Marte batted .366 with three home runs and 10 RBI, ending the season with a 13-game hitting streak.

The Pirates will look for those outfielders to continue their hot stretch as well as the continued steady play of Russell Martin and Josh Harrison, both of whom can be included in a top 10 of NL MVP candidates. It was a breakout year for Harrison, who narrowly lost the batting title and batted .342 in the final two months while Martin has been among the best catchers in the game on both sides.

Martin will help guide Edinson Volquez through the game. Volquez was 2-0 with a 1.33 ERA over his last four starts and had a 1.78 ERA over his last 12 starts. Volquez has extensive experience facing the Giants from his time in San Diego and it is not good as he is winless in his last nine starts against them, which were all made before coming to Pittsburgh.

A year ago and as recently as May, Volquez did not seem to be a likely candidate to start this game.

He was last among all Major League starters last year with a 5.71 ERA and led the NL with 105 walks two years ago. This year those numbers were lowered to 3.04 and 71.

In May, he gave up four home runs at Yankee Stadium and had allowed nine homers in 49 2/3 innings. Since that point, Volquez has given up eight in 143 innings.

This time he has a better supporting group in the lineup and home field where the Pirates led the National League in wins.

“I’d be very proud to get the ball,” Volquez said to reporters before finding out he would be starting. “It’s what I’ve been talking about since early in Spring Training, hoping to get this kind of opportunity.”

It’s a match-up of proven playoff talent against a team that had its first taste and wants more. These are teams that have found the mix in the lineup, rotation, and bullpen and all of that figures to factor into Wednesday.

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Larry Fleisher
Larry Fleisher has covered sports in various capacities for nearly 15 years. He is a writer/editor for the Sports Xchange and has also worked for SportsTicker and Metro New York newspaper. Larry also has worked on many NBA broadcasts doing stats, on several TV shows as a background actor. He is a member of the Pro Basketball Writers Association and the Internet Baseball Writers Association.