Advantages to finishing second

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There was a lot of talk, and correctly so, about the disadvantages of the Pirates not winning the division title and thus having to play in the one-and-done wild-card playoff game.

Turns out there were some advantages, too.

Because the Pirates finished second in the Central Division, they had to use their top starter in the wild-card game, which meant he was not available to open their NLDS play against the St. Louis Cardinals. Too bad, but only for the moment.

Losing the division means Francisco Liriano will pitch this afternoon in the deadlocked (1-1) series and that turns out to be an enormous advantage for the Pirates.

Instead of opening the road, where he was 8-7 with a 4.33 ERA, a 1.44 WHIP and a .261 BAA, Liriano will pitch at PNC Park, where he was 8-1 with a 1.47 ERA, an 0.96 WHIP and a .174 BAA in the regular season and where he dominated Cincinnati in the wild-card game.

To give those numbers further context, Liriano was second in the league in home ERA and 43rd in road ERA.

Even better, as dominant as he's been at home, he's been more dominant against the Cardinals. They were the best-hitting team in the National League but they were a bunch of incompetents against the pitches of Liriano. In three starts against the Cardinals, Liriano was about as good as a pitcher can be. In 24 innings, he was 3-0, with an 0.75 ERA and a ridiculous BAA of .127.

If he can continue that mastery this afternoon in Game 3 (4:37 p.m., TBS), the Pirates will be within a victory of advancing to the National League Championship Series.

If that happens, add this advantage to finishing second: Liriano will be rested and ready to pitch the first game of the NLCS.

But even with Liriano's excellence, a win will not be easy today.

Although St. Louis starter Joe Kelly might be short on MLB experience - not a rookie, but in his first full season, he's been an impressive performer in 2013. Overall, he is 10-5 with a 2.69 ERA. As a starter, he's better: 9-3 with a 2.28 ERA. Most impressive is his record since the end of May: 10-3 with a 1.97 ERA.

Kelly throws hard, mid 90s, but does not get a lot of strikeouts. His K/9 is 5.73, not particularly good.

He is pitching very well, but not as well as Liriano.

The edge to the Pirates in this game is a significant one and a victory will give them a huge advantage. A loss, though, will turn everything around.

It's the beauty of postseason baseball. Every game is monumentally important.

pirates - bobsmiziksports


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