How the Pirates and Reds stack up in seven key areas going into their game tonight at PNC Park:
The Reds have a powerful left-handed trio in the first half of their lineup with leadoff man Shin-Soo Choo, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. Votto's .435 on-base percentage and Choo's .423 mark help the club rank second in the National League in on-base percentage. That, in turn, helped the Reds score 4.31 runs per game, third in the NL. Their on-base plus slugging percentage when adjusted for ballpark, however, falls below average, while the Pirates are above average in the category. They have a power-speed threat in MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, who tied for the NL lead in home runs.
Pirates shortstop Clint Barmes has an ultimate zone rating of 8.9 this season, meaning he saved 8.9 runs more than the average shortstop. The Reds' Zack Cozart ranks behind him at 6.4, but still above average. Neil Walker saved nine runs above average compared to Brandon Phillips, an average defender. Phillips is also dealing with a sore left shin after fouling a ball off it Saturday. Pedro Alvarez made 27 errors this season, the most of anybody in the major leagues. Reds third baseman Todd Frazier, meanwhile, is an above-average fielder.
The Pirates front office has often said they treat left field at PNC Park like a second center field because of its large dimensions. The tandem of Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte, two of the fastest men in the majors, plays well there. Marte has a fantastic arm. The Reds, meanwhile, have Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick in the outfield corners. Both are slow, but Bruce and center fielder Shin-Soo Choo have great arms. Marlon Byrd has saved 12 runs above average in right field this season, a good portion of which was spent playing with the New York Mets at spacious Citi Field.
Russell Martin ranked ninth in the major leagues in defensive Wins Above Replacement this season and threw out more would-be base stealers than any catcher in the league, with 36. His 40.4 percent success rate ranked third in the majors, behind the Dodgers' A.J. Ellis and the Cardinals' Yadier Molina, among qualified catchers. The Reds catchers, Devin Mesoraco and Ryan Hanigan, threw out a combined 33. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has used Tony Sanchez to catch starter Francisco Liriano at times, but Liriano has had good performances with Martin behind the plate as well.
Francisco Liriano has a 3.70 ERA in 24 1/3 innings against the Reds this season and struck out 28 batters in four starts. The Reds are hitting .193 against him with four home runs this year. Liriano finished the season with a 3.95 ERA after the All-Star break, compared to a 2.00 ERA before the break. Johnny Cueto has made only two starts since returning from the disabled list for the third time this season. In two starts against the Pirates this season, Cueto has a 0.73 ERA and nine strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings.
The Pirates bullpen has a 2.89 ERA this season, which ranks as the third-best unit in baseball. Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli used to be lights-out in the eighth and ninth innings, but recent rough outings by Melancon and the return of Grilli from injury have weakened the later innings slightly. Left-hander Tony Watson has an 0.87 ERA since the start of August. The Reds have the ace in the hole with left-handed closer Aroldis Chapman, who routinely exceeds 100 mph and has 112 strikeouts in 632/3 innings this season. The Reds bullpen as a whole has a 3.29 ERA, ranking them seventh in the major leagues.
Clint Hurdle has experienced this type of situation before, when he managed the Colorado Rockies in a regular-season tiebreaker in 2007 and won in extra innings. He can sometimes leave his starters in the game for a batter or two too many, though with Gerrit Cole ready to back up Francisco Liriano tomorrow and a fresh bullpen in a winner-take-all game, that shouldn't be an issue. Dusty Baker has recently been batting Ryan Ludwick and his .293 on-base percentage, or Brandon Phillips and his .310 mark, in the No. 2 spot in the lineup.