All of the the marbles come down to the season finale between the rival Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds this weekend at Great American Ball Park this weekend. Mathematically, the Pirates are not out of the NL Central division title, but the lowly Chicago Cubs would need to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh would need to sweep the Reds.
The Reds and the Pirates are likely playing for home-field advantage in the one game playoff against one another.
Pittsburgh, which locked up its first postseason berth since 1992 on Monday, would need to take two of three in this set to host that one-game playoff against the Reds.
A tie in the standing would give Cincinnati the home-field advantage based on head-to-head play,
Andrew McCutchen is batting .318 on the season, but he’s 3-for-24 over his last seven games and hitless in 14 straight at-bats against the Reds.
The key for the Pirates this weekend will be their starting rotation.
A.J. Burnett will take the mound for the Bucs on Friday night. The 36-year-old is 9-11 with a 3.19 ERA this season. Last Saturday Burnett dominated the Reds in the Pirates 4-2 victory. The veteran fanned a season-best 12 batters while allowing two runs over seven innings.
“I was locked in,” Burnett said. “It was probably the best command of that hook I’ve had in a long time. I had a put-away pitch, and it’s a lot different when you have those.”
He’s had 28 strikeouts in 18 2-3 innings while going 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA in three outings against Cincinnati this season. However, Burnett is 2-5 with a 5.36 ERA in eight career starts in Cincinnati, and he has a 6.68 ERA in his last six outings on the road.
Homer Bailey will be Burnett’s mound opponent again on Friday. Bailey gave up four runs, two earned, and walked four in 5 2/3 innings last Saturday against the Pirates.
The Pirates typically struggle against Bailey, who has a 1.91 ERA in his last four starts, including the Sept.28,2012 no-hitter.
The series will like conclude with rookie Gerrit Cole on the mound against Johnny Cueto. Cole is 10-7 on the season with a 3.22 ERA. The young starter has phenomenal for the Pirates in recent outings. However, the Pirates struggle against Johnny Cueto, who was injured most of the season. The right-hander is 5-2 with a 2.82 ERA this season. He threw seven innings of three hit ball earlier in the week against the Mets.
The Pirates have their work cut out for them this weekend, but the starting rotation is good enough to land them the 2-0f-3 wins for the first playoff game in Pittsburgh in 21 years.