Cincinnati Reds (90-72) at Pittsburgh Pirates (94-68)
Time/Place: 8:07 p.m., PNC Park
Pitching Matchup: RHP Johnny Cueto (5-2, 2.82 ERA) vs. LHP Francisco Liriano (16-8, 3.02 ERA)
Cueto has been hampered by a lat injury all year, hitting the disabled list on three separate occasions for the same injury. He has only made two starts since June, holding the Houston Astros and New York Mets to a combined two runs (one earned) in a pair of September starts. Cueto has pitched very well against the Pirates throughout his career, amassing a 13-4 record and 2.37 ERA in 21 starts. This includes a pair of outings this season -- both at PNC Park -- where Cueto held the Bucs to one run on just three hits in 12 1/3 innings.
Overall, Cueto was very good in a limited showing in 2013. He allowed more than three runs just once this season, a mid-June start at the launchpad known as Chase Field in Arizona. Six of his 11 starts this year were quality starts, with two more resulting in a combined one run allowed in 9 1/3 innings. He is arguably Cincinnati's most talented starter and has a proven track record, with a 2.61 ERA in 68 regular season starts over the past three seasons.
On the other side of the diamond, Francisco Liriano has defied the odds with an incredible comeback season. He allowed a 3.02 ERA and 2.92 FIP in 26 starts. He had a .290 BABIP despite a 24% line drive rate, but struck out 24.5% of the batters he faced while decreasing his walk rate from 12.6% in 2012 to 9.5% this season.
Liriano was especially effective at home, where he allowed a 1.47 ERA and 2.51 FIP this year. His 0.96 WHIP at home was one of the best in baseball. Liriano also dominated lefties, holding them to a .329 OPS in 138 plate appearances this year. This might not be a big deal against most teams, but with the Reds relying heavily on left-handed hitters -- Shin-Soo Choo, Joey Votto, and Jay Bruce are all pure lefties -- Liriano was the right choice to start.
The Reds and Pirates are very familiar with one another, having faced each other six times in the past 11 days. The Reds took two of three from the Pirates in Pittsburgh, but the Pirates swept the Reds in Cincinnati to finish out the year. The Pirates won 11 of the 19 matchups between the two teams during the year. However, Cincinnati's playoff experience and Cueto's career dominance of the Pirates will play a bigger role tonight.
The Reds go 1-3 against the Pirates in their final four games, but they win the one that counts in a low-scoring affair.