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What to watch for: NL Wild Card Game

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by Mike Feigen

1000x790_bumgarner_volquez_woyetmcb_wki2e2c9The Scene

Pittsburgh’s PNC Park will be the first ballpark to host two one-game Wild Card contests, after the Pirates cruised past the Cincinnati Reds a season ago, 6-2. Despite its cozy confines, Pirates fans turned up the volume a season ago and leaned on their proximity to the field of play, particularly in left field. Pittsburgh fans mercilessly taunted Reds hurler Johnny Cueto, who served up four runs on eight hits — including a pair of homers — in just 3.1 innings of work.

The Stakes

The winner will travel to Washington to face the Nationals this Friday, opening the best-of-five National League Division Series in the Nation’s Capital. Should the Pirates win, Game 1 will begin at 12:07 p.m. ET, but should the Giants prevail, first pitch will be at 3:07 p.m. local time at Nationals Park.

San Francisco Lineup

CF Gregor Blanco

2B Joe Panik

C Buster Posey

3B Pablo Sandoval

RF Hunter Pence

1B Brandon Belt

SS Brandon Crawford

LF Travis Ishikawa

LHP Madison Bumgarner

 

Pittsburgh Lineup

3B Josh Harrison

SS Jordy Mercer

CF Andrew McCutchen

C Russell Martin

LF Starling Marte

2B Neil Walker

1B Gaby Sanchez

RF Travis Snider

RHP Edinson Volquez

 

The Starters

San Francisco will turn to its ace, 25-year-old southpaw Madison Bumgarner, in this do-or-die contest. Bumgarner (18-10, 2.98) is no stranger to postseason baseball, with dominant performances in the Giants’ 2010 and 2012 World Series victories. He’s had mixed results against the Pirates, however, including a loss on July 28 of this year in which he was touched up for five runs in the first 1.1 innings of the game. Bumgarner is dominant against left-handed hitters, allowing a .539 OPS and just five walks all season, but is mortal against righties, allowing a .684 OPS — including 20 home runs.

Edinson Volquez (13-7, 3.04) will take the hill for the Pirates. A 31-year-old journeyman who has pitched for the Reds, Padres, Dodgers and Pirates since 2011, Volquez is the Pirates’ No. 3 starter behind left-hander Francisco Liriano and righty Gerrit Cole. However, in their attempt to claim the NL Central crown, manager Clint Hurdle elected to throw his aces over the weekend, putting his faith in Volquez. The right-hander posted a career-low strikeout rate, walked more than three batters per nine innings, and relied on a .263 batting average on balls in play, so he’ll have to maintain his good luck to prevail Wednesday night.

The Offenses

At the plate, the Pirates likely have the better offense at this point in the season. Defending 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen leads a talented group that includes breakout performer Josh Harrison, power-speed threat Starling Marte and team leader Russell Martin. And while Martin’s two-homer performance in last year’s Wild Card stole the show last year, McCutchen remains the club’s biggest star. The center fielder hit .314/.410/.542 with 38 doubles, six triples, 25 home runs and 18 stolen bases in 2014, with his .410 on-base percentage leading all of Major League Baseball.

The Giants will attempt to match the Pittsburgh firepower with a former MVP of its own, as Buster Posey leads an attack that has been slowed by injuries in the second half of the season. Posey, the 2012 NL MVP Award winner, batted .311/.364/.490 this season, while All-Star outfielder Hunter Pence boasted a .777 OPS and 106 runs scored in 2014. San Francisco will miss the services of leadoff man and center fielder Angel Pagan, who recently underwent surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back, as well as former National Michael Morse, who will also miss the Wild Card Game due to injury.

The Best of the Rest

Because of the injuries to Morse and Pagan, the Giants will enter Wednesday night’s contest with plenty of question marks. Joaquin Arias, Gary Brown, Matt Duffy, Adam Duvall, Juan Perez, Guillermo Quiroz and Adam Susac comprise a bench that isn’t likely to strike fear into opposing pitchers, but could find themselves in key situations depending on how manager Bruce Bochy handles his substitutions. In the Pirates’ dugout, infielder Clint Barmes, first baseman Ike Davis and outfielders Gregory Polanco and Jose Tabata have more pedigree than the San Francisco reserves, but Davis and Polanco are liabilities against left-handers and may not see the batter’s box unless Bumgarner is out of the game.

Should the game rest on the success of the bullpens, both teams ranked in the top 10 in the league in bullpen ERA and each can match up with talented lefties and righties. The Giants feature veteran southpaws Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez, along with righties Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla. The Pirates are led by closer Mark Melancon (33 saves, 1.90 ERA) and lefty set-up man Tony Watson (10 wins, 34 holds, 1.63 ERA), two of the best in the business.

The Edge

If last night’s American League Wild Card Game (won 9-8 by Kansas City in 12 innings) is any indication, anything is possible. San Francisco will rely on Bumgarner to carry them through, while Pittsburgh will look to run up the score against a team that may not be able to match them blow for blow. Playing at home is always nice to have in a winner-take-all contest, and by virtue of their 4-2 head-to-head record against the Giants this season, the Pirates won the right to host Wednesday night’s game — and therefore hold the very slightest of advantages.

Nationals Game Notes — Aug. 22 vs. San Francisco

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Game No. 127: Washington Nationals (73-53) vs. San Francisco Giants (67-59) | 7:05 p.m. ET | Nationals Park
Pitching Match-Up: RHP Doug Fister (12-3, 2.20 ERA) vs. RHP Tim Hudson (8-9, 3.03)
Both Washington Nationals right-hander Doug Fister (9th, 1.61/1) and San Francisco Giants right-hander Tim Hudson (2.33/1) rank among the top 10 among current National League pitchers in ground ball-to-fly ball ratio.
Radio: 106.7 FM / 1500 AM  and also on nationals.com (for subscribers to MLB.tv)
TV: Today’s game will be televised on MASN and MLBNetwork
Live Statsnationals.com

Of note:

  • The Nationals are on a 10-game winning streak, which is tied for the longest streak in team history. Of the 10 consecutive victories, seven have been of the one-run variety, five were comeback wins, and five were walk-off wins. During the 10-gamer, Washington has outscored its opponents, 46-23, and is batting .275 with 10 homers, but the keys have been pitching (1.82 team ERA, 1.34 ERA from starting staff) and defense (seven errorless games).

Here are the lineups for today’s match-up:

NATIONALS (73-53)

2 Denard Span (L) CF
6 Anthony Rendon 3B
28 Jayson Werth RF
25 Adam LaRoche (L) 1B
20 Ian Desmond SS
34 Bryce Harper (L) LF
40 Wilson Ramos C
3 Asdrubal Cabrera (S) 2B
58 Doug Fister (L) RHP

GIANTS (67-59)

16 Angel Pagan (S) CF
8 Hunter Pence RF
28 Buster Posey C
48 Pablo Sandoval (S) 3B
38 Michael Morse LF
12 Joe Panik (L) 2B
45 Travis Ishikawa (L) 1B
35 Brandon Crawford (L) SS
17 Tim Hudson RHP

Here are today’s game notes, courtesy of the Washington Nationals PR department. Enjoy!

Nationals Game Notes — Aug. 19 vs. Arizona Diamondbacks

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Game No. 124: Washington Nationals (70-53) vs. Arizona Diamondbacks (53-72) | 7:05 p.m. ET | Nationals Park
Pitching Match-Up: RHP Stephen Strasburg (9-10, 3.53 ERA) vs. RHP Chase Anderson (7-4, 3.16)
With a National League-leading 194 strikeouts, Washington Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg appears likely to eclipse his current career high of 197, set in 2012.
Radio: 106.7 FM / 1500 AM  and also on nationals.com (for subscribers to MLB.tv)
TV: Today’s game will be televised on MASN
Live Statsnationals.com

Of note:

  • According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Nationals have won three straight games despite trailing in the eighth inning or later for just the second time in their 10 seasons representing The District. In 2006, from Aug. 21 – Sept. 3, the Nationals won four straight games while overcoming late (8th inning or later) deficits. Coincidentally, three of those four comeback wins in 2006 came during a three-game home sweep of the Diamondbacks, Sept. 2-3.

Here are the lineups for today’s match-up:

NATIONALS (70-53)

2 Denard Span (L) CF
6 Anthony Rendon 3B
28 Jayson Werth RF
25 Adam LaRoche (L) 1B
20 Ian Desmond SS
34 Bryce Harper (L) LF
3 Asdrubal Cabrera (S) 2B
59 Jose Lobaton (S) C
37 Stephen Strasburg RHP

Diamondbacks (53-72)

5 Ender Inciarte (L) CF
2 Aaron Hill 2B
6 David Peralta (L) RF
15 Mark Trumbo LF
26 Miguel Montero (L) C
31 Jordan Pacheco 1B
19 Jake Lamb (L) 3B
1 Didi Gregorious (L) SS
57 Chase Anderson RHP

Here are today’s game notes, courtesy of the Washington Nationals PR department. Enjoy!

Nationals Game Notes — Aug. 18 vs. Arizona Diamondbacks

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Game No. 123: Washington Nationals (69-53) vs. Arizona Diamondbacks (53-71) | 7:05 p.m. ET | Nationals Park
Pitching Match-Up: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (8-5, 2.92 ERA) vs. LHP Vidal Nuno (0-3, 3.92)
Washington Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann entered this month with a 3.94 career ERA in August, but is 2-0 with a 1.37 ERA in three August starts thus far this season.
Radio: 106.7 FM / 1500 AM  and also on nationals.com (for subscribers to MLB.tv)
TV: Today’s game will be televised on MASN
Live Statsnationals.com

Of note:

  • The Nationals swept both the Mets (3-0 at Citi Field) and Pirates (3-0 here in DC) last week, and in doing so, pieced together consecutive series sweeps for the first time since June 8-13, 2012 (3-0 at Boston, 3-0 at Toronto)

Here are the lineups for today’s match-up:

NATIONALS (69-53)

2 Denard Span (L) CF
6 Anthony Rendon 3B
28 Jayson Werth RF
25 Adam LaRoche (L) 1B
20 Ian Desmond SS
34 Bryce Harper (L) LF
40 Wilson Ramos C
3 Asdrubal Cabrera (S) 2B
27 Jordan Zimmermann RHP

Diamondbacks (53-71)

5 Ender Inciarte (L) CF
2 Aaron Hill 2B
6 David Peralta (L) RF
15 Mark Trumbo LF
26 Miguel Montero (L) C
31 Jordan Pacheco 1B
19 Jake Lamb (L) 3B
1 Didi Gregorious (L) SS
54 Vidal Nuno (L) LHP

Here are today’s game notes, courtesy of the Washington Nationals PR department. Enjoy!

Nationals Game Notes — Aug. 17 vs. Pittsburgh Pirates

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Game No. 122: Washington Nationals (68-53) vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (64-59) | 5:05 p.m. ET | Nationals Park
Pitching Match-Up: RHP Doug Fister (12-3, 2.34 ERA) vs. RHP Edinson Volquez (10-7, 3.67)
Washington Nationals right-hander Doug Fister got the nod and earned the win with 7.0 scoreless innings in Washington’s lone victory (W5-2, May 25) during a four-game visit to PNC Park in late May.
Radio: 106.7 FM / 1500 AM  and also on nationals.com (for subscribers to MLB.tv)
TV: Today’s game will be televised on MASN2
Live Statsnationals.com

Of note:

  • The Nationals enter tonight’s series finale with a chance to do something they’ve never done: take the season series from the Pirates in spite of losing the first three match-ups between the teams. In 10 seasons in Washington, the Nationals have never won a seven-game season series after dropping the first three games to an opponent. 

Here are the lineups for today’s match-up:

NATIONALS (68-53)

2 Denard Span (L) CF
3 Asdrubal Cabrera (S) 2B
6 Anthony Rendon 3B
25 Adam LaRoche (L) 1B
20 Ian Desmond SS
34 Bryce Harper (L) LF
40 Wilson Ramos C
18 Michael A. Taylor RF
58 Doug Fister (L) RHP

PIRATES (64-59)

25 Gregory Polanco (L) RF
5 Josh Harrison SS
18 Neil Walker (S) 2B
55 Russell Martin C
24 Pedro Alvarez (L) 3B
6 Starling Marte CF
23 Travis Snider (L) LF
15 Ike Davis (L) 1B
36 Edinson Volquez RHP

Here are today’s game notes, courtesy of the Washington Nationals PR department. Enjoy!

Nationals Game Notes — Aug. 16 vs. Pittsburgh Pirates

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Game No. 121: Washington Nationals (67-53) vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (64-58) | 7:05 p.m. ET | Nationals Park
Pitching Match-Up: LHP Gio Gonzalez (6-9, 4.00 ERA) vs. LHP Jeff Locke (4-3, 3.98)
Washington Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez is 2-0 with a 3.28 ERA in four career starts against the Pirates, and his clubs are a perfect 4-0 (3-0 as a National, 1-0 as an Athletic) in those games.
Radio: 106.7 FM / 1500 AM  and also on nationals.com (for subscribers to MLB.tv)
TV: Today’s game will be televised on MASN and WUSA9
Live Statsnationals.com

Of note:

  • The Nationals lead the National League (3rd in the Major Leagues) in run differential at +90 (504 for, 414 against). MLB’s top four teams in run differential: Oakland Athletics (+163), Seattle Mariners (+94), Washington Nationals (+90), Los Angeles Angels (+87).

Here are the lineups for today’s match-up:

NATIONALS (67-53)

2 Denard Span (L) CF
19 Kevin Frandsen LF
6 Anthony Rendon 3B
25 Adam LaRoche (L) 1B
20 Ian Desmond SS
34 Bryce Harper (L) LF
40 Wilson Ramos C
8 Danny Espinosa 2B
47 Gio Gonzalez LHP

PIRATES (64-58)

5 Josh Harrison SS
25 Gregory Polanco (L) RF
55 Russell Martin C
6 Starling Marte CF
17 Gaby Sanchez 1B
24 Pedro Alvarez (L) 3B
27 Jayson Nix 2B
23 Travis Snider (L) LF
49 Jeff Locke LHP

Here are today’s game notes, courtesy of the Washington Nationals PR department. Enjoy!

Nationals Game Notes — August 15 vs. Pittsburgh Pirates

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Game No. 120: Washington Nationals (66-53) vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (64-57) | 7:05 p.m. ET | Nationals Park
Pitching Match-Up: RHP Tanner Roark (11-7, 2.86 ERA) vs. RHP Charlie Morton (5-1, 3.62)
Washington Nationals right-hander Tanner Roark, who faces the Pirates for the first time, has allowed one earned run or fewer in 13 of his last 20 starts, dating to Apr. 21.
Radio: 106.7 FM / 1500 AM  and also on nationals.com (for subscribers to MLB.tv)
TV: Today’s game will be televised on MASN
Live Statsnationals.com

Of note:

  • Ian Desmond is one of just nine shortstops the last 40 years (1974 – present) to hit at least 20 home runs (exclusively as a shortstop) in at least three consecutive seasons:
    Cal Ripken Jr., 1982-1991
    Alex Rodriguez, 1996-2002
    Nomar Garciaparra, 1997-1999
    Rich Aurilia, 1999-2001
    Miguel Tejada, 1999-2006
    Hanley Ramirez, 2007-2010
    Troy Tulowitzki, 2009-2011
    JJ Hardy, 2011-2013
    Ian Desmond, 2012-2014

Here are the lineups for today’s match-up:

NATIONALS (66-53)

2 Denard Span (L) CF
3 Asdrubal Cabrera (S) 2B
6 Anthony Rendon 3B
25 Adam LaRoche (L) 1B
20 Ian Desmond SS
34 Bryce Harper (L) LF
40 Wilson Ramos C
18 Michael A. Taylor RF
57 Tanner Roark RHP

PIRATES (64-57)

5 Josh Harrison SS
25 Gregory Polanco (L) RF
55 Russell Martin C
18 Neil Walker (S) 2B
6 Starling Marte CF
23 Travis Snider (L) LF
15 Ike Davis (L) 1B
24 Pedro Alvarez (L) 3B
50 Charlie Morton RHP

Here are today’s game notes, courtesy of the Washington Nationals PR department. Enjoy!

Nationals Game Notes — August 12 at New York Mets

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Game No. 117: Washington Nationals (63-53) at New York Mets (57-62) | 7:10 p.m. ET | Nationals Park
Pitching Match-Up: RHP Doug Fister (11-3, 2.49 ERA) vs. RHP Rafael Montero (0-2, 5.40)
Washington Nationals right-hander Doug Fister is 5-0 with a 1.80 ERA (7 ER/35.0 IP) in five starts this season when pitching on “extra rest” (more than the standard four days).
Radio: 106.7 FM / 1500 AM  and also on nationals.com (for subscribers to MLB.tv)
TV: Today’s game will be televised on MASN@
Live Statsnationals.com

Of note:

  • Anthony Rendon’s team-leading 81 runs are tied for second in the Major Leagues behind only Minnesota’s Brian Dozier (83). Rendon is on pace to score 100 runs in a single season, a threshold only met three times by a National: Alfonso Soriano(119 in 2006), Ryan Zimmerman (110 in 2009) and Nick Johnson (100 in 2006).
    Denard Span ranks second among MLB leadoff hitters with 71 runs scored (St. Louis’s Matt Carpenter, 74).

Here are the lineups for today’s match-up:

NATIONALS (63-53)

2 Denard Span (L) CF
3 Asdrubal Cabrera (S) 2B
6 Anthony Rendon 3B
25 Adam LaRoche (L) 1B
20 Ian Desmond SS
34 Bryce Harper (L) LF
40 Wilson Ramos C
18 Michael Taylor RF
58 Doug Fister RHP

METS (57-62)

3 Curtis Granderson (L) RF
28 Daniel Murphy (L) 2B
5 David Wright 3B
21 Lucas Duda (L) 1B
15 Travis d’Arnaud C
6 Matt den Dekker (L) LF
12 Juan Lagares CF
4 Wilmer Flores SS
22 Eric Young Jr. (S) LF

Here are today’s game notes, courtesy of the Washington Nationals PR department. Enjoy!

Nationals Game Notes — August 7 vs. New York Mets

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Game No. 113: Washington Nationals (61-51) vs. New York Mets (54-60) | 12:35 p.m. ET | Nationals Park
Pitching Match-Up: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (7-5, 3.00 ERA) vs. RHP Jacob deGrom (6-5, 2.77)
Washington Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann has not allowed a home run at Nationals Park in nine starts (55.0 innings). The last home run hit off him in this ballpark was off the bat of Miami’s Derek Dietrich on April 9.
Radio: 106.7 FM / 1500 AM  and also on nationals.com (for subscribers to MLB.tv)
TV: Today’s game will be televised on MASN
Live Statsnationals.com

Of note:

  • The Nationals have played error-less baseball in 41 of their last 53 games, dating to June 7. In that eight-plus week span, the Nationals pace the Major Leagues with a .992 fielding percentage. The Seattle Mariners (.992) and Baltimore Orioles (.990) rank second and third, respectively. The Nationals’ monthly error totals: Mar./Apr. (26), May (20), June (8), July (10), Aug. (2).

Here are the lineups for today’s match-up:

NATIONALS (61-51)

2 Denard Span (L) CF
6 Anthony Rendon 2B
28 Jayson Werth RF
25 Adam LaRoche (L) 1B
20 Ian Desmond SS
34 Bryce Harper (L) LF
3 Asdrubal Cabrera (S) 2B
59 Jose Lobaton (S) C
27 Jordan Zimmermann RHP

METS (54-60)

3 Curtis Granderson (L) RF
28 Daniel Murphy (L) 2B
5 David Wright 3B
21 Lucas Duda (L) 1B
12 Juan Lagares CF
4 Wilmer Flores SS
20 Anthony Recker C
48 Jacob deGrom (L) RHP
22 Eric Young Jr. (S) LF

Here are today’s game notes, courtesy of the Washington Nationals PR department. Enjoy!

Nationals Game Notes — August 6 vs. New York Mets

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Game No. 112: Washington Nationals (60-51) vs. New York Mets (54-59) | 7:05 p.m. ET | Nationals Park
Pitching Match-Up: RHP Doug Fister (10-3, 2.68 ERA) vs. LHP Jonathon Niese (5-7, 3.24)
Washington Nationals right-hander Doug Fister  has walked one batter or fewer in 14 of his last 18 starts. Fister’s walk rate (1.20/9.0 inn.) would pace the National League and rank fourth in the Major Leagues if he qualified. 
Radio: 106.7 FM / 1500 AM  and also on nationals.com (for subscribers to MLB.tv)
TV: Today’s game will be televised on MASN & MASN2
Live Statsnationals.com

Of note:

  • Washington Nationals catchers (Wilson Ramos, Jose Lobaton & Sandy Leon) pace the Major Leagues having gunned down 23 of 65 (35.4%) would-be basestealers this year (pitcher caught stealings excluded). The Cardinals (19 of 56, 33.9%) currently rank a close 2nd behind the Nationals. In ‘13, the Nationals ranked 29th in the Major Leagues, throwing out 14 percent (15 of 110) of would-be basestealers.

Here are the lineups for today’s match-up:

NATIONALS (60-51)

2 Denard Span (L) CF
6 Anthony Rendon 2B
28 Jayson Werth RF
25 Adam LaRoche (L) 1B
20 Ian Desmond SS
34 Bryce Harper (L) LF
8 Danny Espinosa (S) 2B
59 Jose Lobaton (S) C
58 Doug Fister RHP

METS (54-59)

3 Curtis Granderson (L) RF
28 Daniel Murphy (L) 2B
5 David Wright 3B
21 Lucas Duda (L) 1B
15 Travis d’Arnaud C
9 Kirk Nieuwenhuis (L) LF
12 Juan Lagares CF
11 Ruben Tejada SS
49 Jonathon Niese (L) LHP

Here are today’s game notes, courtesy of the Washington Nationals PR department. Enjoy!

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