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National League Wild Card Game Open Thread: Giants at Pirates

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For the second night in a row, the Wild Card matchup is a simple case of good vs. evil. Go Pirates.

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Kevin C. Cox

San Francisco Giants (88-74) at Pittsburgh Pirates (88-74)

Time/Place: 8:00 p.m., PNC Park

SB Nation blogs: McCovey Chronicles and Bucs Dugout

Media: ESPN

Pitching Matchup: LHP Madison Bumgarner (18-10, 2.98 ERA) vs. RHP Edinson Volquez (13-7, 3.04 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Bumgarner 33 217.1 9.07 1.78 0.87 1.09 3.05 2.98 3.6
Volquez 31 192.2 6.54 3.32 0.79 1.23 4.15 4.20 0.7

Madison Bumgarner gave the San Francisco Giants a quality start against the Tigers on September 6th at Comerica Park, allowing three runs in six innings. He allowed 10 hits and did not strike out a batter, but the Giants still came away with a 5-4 victory. As solid as Bumgarner looked in that game, it was his worst outing over the last two months of the season according to Bill James' Game Score statistic. His worst start of the year? A start against these Pittsburgh Pirates on July 28th. Bumgarner gave up five runs on six hits in just four innings. He struck out two and walked two in that game, one of three starts where he walked as many batters as he fanned.

These are outliers, though. Bumgarner was one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2014, and he got even better after the All-Star break. Bumgarner went 8-3 with a 2.29 ERA and 3.17 FIP in the second half as the Giants won nine of the 13 games he started. He held opponents to hitting just .207/.239/.347 in the second half with an outstanding 8.27 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Bumgarner also excelled on the road in 2014, allowing a 2.22 ERA and .273 wOBA away from AT&T Park.

Many people -- myself included -- bashed the Pirates' signing of Edinson Volquez prior to the 2014 season. Man, were we wrong. Volquez was the horse of the Pirates' staff in 2014, tossing a team-high 192 2/3 innings with a 3.04 ERA. His strikeout rate was nowhere near as high as it was during his brief heyday with the Cincinnati Reds, resulting in a pedestrian 4.15 FIP and 4.20 xFIP.

Like Bumgarner, things picked up in the second half for Volquez. He allowed a 2.20 ERA and 3.87 FIP after the All-Star break, improving his strikeout rate to 7.38 per nine innings. His command started to be an issue, however. Volquez walked 34 batters in 81 2/3 innings in the second half, a rate of 3.75 per nine innings. This included six starts with three walks or more. Luckily for him, the Giants had the fourth-lowest walk rate in the National League this season. The command issues primarily showed up against left-handed hitters, though. Volquez walked 33 right-handers in 459 plate appearances this season, a 7.2 percent rate.

Outlook

Despite having to travel across the country to play tonight's game, the Giants have a big advantage in tonight's game thanks to the relative strength of the NL division winners. With the Los Angeles Dodgers clinching the NL West a few days early, the Giants were able to skip Bumgarner's scheduled start on the final day of the season. Meanwhile, the Pirates burned their ace, Gerritt Cole, in a losing effort on Sunday when chasing the NL Central crown. The Pirates still have a solid starter on the mound and a great atmosphere behind him, but Bumgarner's talent will outshine the Bucs tonight.

Prediction

The Giants win because nobody wants them to.

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