San Francisco Routs Pittsburgh In NL Wild-Card Game
The NL wild-card game wasn’t quite the dramatic affair that its American League counterpart was, a sentence that falls in the category of massive understatements. The San Francisco Giants rolled past the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-0. Madison Bumgarner looked unhittable, throwing a complete-game four-hitter and Brandon Crawford hit a grand slam in the fourth inning that took the air out of PNC Park early.
ESPN commentators Dan Shulman and John Kruk gave some time to discussing Pirate manager Clint Hurdle’s decision to pitch Gerritt Cole in the season finale, when the team was a game back of St. Louis for the NL Central title, rather than save him for this game. Cole is the #2 starter behind Francisco Liriano.
Kruk defended Hurdle’s decision and I agree. If you believe that a one-game wild-card shootout is something you want to avoid at all costs—and that’s certainly the point of the playoff system that was established in 2012—then it makes sense for Pittsburgh to pull out all the stops to win the NL Central.
I would concede one point to critics—the fact the Pirates were a game behind and therefore not in control of their own destiny, does make it a tougher decision. But the ultimate objective is to try and get into the Division Series by the quickest means possible. If the last Sunday of the season would have gone Pittsburgh’s way, they would have had two chances—a one-game playoff with St. Louis, and failing that, the wild-card game.
Furthermore, Kruk got the heart of the matter when he pointed out that comparing Gerritt Cole and Edinson Volquez is not like comparing Clayton Kershaw and Dan Haren. There isn’t some massive dropoff. Volquez, who got the ball last night, had pitched extremely well for four months. Cole is a nice young pitcher, but he isn’t at this exalted level where sending him to the mound is virtually a guaranteed win.
So yes, I would defend Hurdle on his bigger picture managerial decisions. I think his in-game handling of Volquez left a lot to be desired. The manager didn’t even get anyone warming up until after the grand slam. I was thinking when there were runners on first and second and none out, that it was time to get someone loose.
Shulman and Kruk cited a quote from Curt Schilling, who said “in the postseason, a walk is a rally.” Even more so in a one-game playoff. What then, is two aboard with none out and the other team’s ace on the mound? It’s a full-scale crisis.
Having said all that though, Pittsburgh was just not suited to win this game. The Pirate strength is the depth of their rotation and their bullpen, and those aren’t strengths that are suited to win a one-game playoff. Bumgarner is the best pitcher on either side and his presence was why San Francisco was a (-115) betting favorite coming into the game, even with the Pirates being hot and playing at home.
Pittsburgh might have lost in this same spot last year, but Cincinnati ace Johnny Cueto was still not really right after missing much of the second half with a hip problem. This time, the Pirates faced an ace that was healthy.
I regret that I didn’t give enough space in this recap to talk about the team that actually won the game, but we will get plenty of chances to discuss the Giants in the week ahead (or perhaps longer). They’ll move on the Division Series against the Washington Nationals starting Friday. The other NL matchup will be St. Louis and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
AL Division Series action begins late this afternoon, with Detroit-Baltimore and followed by Kansas City-LA Angels. TheSportsNotebook.com will preview both series in the late morning/early afternoon.