Position-by-position breakdown for Giants-Pirates
It's often said that experience plays a pivotal role come October. This year's National League Wild Card Game (Wednesday night at 8:07 ET) between the Giants and Pirates presents an interesting twist on that traditional concept.
The Giants' roster has a number of players who were part of the club's World Series title runs in both 2010 and '12. That said, those players never had to win a one-game playoff, though the Giants did win do-or-die games in the 2012 NL Division Series and NL Championship Series.
As for the Pirates, they were in this exact situation just one year ago. Pittsburgh won the inaugural NL Wild Card Game -- with some of its current players leading the way -- in a raucous atmosphere at PNC Park last year.
Though the Pirates were hoping to win the NL Central and avoid another Wild Card Game this time around, their fate was ultimately sealed with a loss on the final day of the regular season. Their consolation prize for finishing 88-74 is a one-game playoff against the Giants, who finished with an identical 88-74 record. The Pirates get to host the game by virtue of winning four of the six regular-season meetings.
Plenty has changed since the clubs last met on July 30, however, so let's take a look at how these teams currently stack up, position by position.
Russell Martin may have been the star of the Wild Card Game a year ago, going 3-for-4 with a pair of homers in Pittsburgh's victory over the Reds, but the Giants still have former MVP Buster Posey behind the plate. Posey put up a solid .311/.364/.490 slash line to go with 22 homers and 89 RBIs in the regular season. Not only does Posey enter Wednesday's game red-hot after hitting .393 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in September, he's 5-for-9 lifetime against Pirates starter Edinson Volquez. Advantage: Giants
A healthy Brandon Belt could be a difference-maker for the Giants this October. Coming off a breakout season of sorts in 2013, Belt was limited to just 61 games this year due to three stints on the disabled list. He returned on Sept. 17 and seems to be getting hot at the right time, turning in three multihit games over his final six, going 8-for-21 (.381) with a homer in that span. Gaby Sanchez will get the start for the Pirates with lefty Madison Bumgarner on the mound -- not to mention Ike Davis has been battling flu-like symptoms. Advantage: Giants
This may be one of the most intriguing matchups in this game. In a battle of experience versus youth, the Pirates have veteran Neil Walker at second base, while the Giants counter with breakout rookie Joe Panik. Walker, who hit a career-high 23 homers this year, went 2-for-5 in the Wild Card Game a year ago before going 0-for-19 in the Pirates' loss to the Cardinals in the NLDS. As for Panik, he burst onto the scene, hitting .305 over 73 games -- including .327 after the All-Star break -- in his debut season. This one could truly go either way, but experience wins out over a rookie making his postseason debut in a Wild Card Game on the road. Advantage: Pirates
The hot corner in this matchup boasts a couple of star players, though they appear to be trending in opposite directions. Josh Harrison's breakout year, which included his first All-Star appearance, was one of the keys to the Pirates' season. The runner-up for the NL batting title, Harrison hit .315, including a combined .342 in August and September. As for Pablo Sandoval, the two-time All-Star hit just .218 in September and could potentially be playing his final game with the Giants. Advantage: Pirates
There isn't a whole lot that separates Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford and Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer. The two have played nearly identical seasons on both sides of the ball -- and both sides of the All-Star break. Crawford finished the year with a .246/.324/.389 slash line compared to Mercer's .255/.305/.387 line, with both players settling in nicely as the year went on. Even the defensive metrics for the two are nearly identical. Advantage: Push
The injuries to Michael Morse and Angel Pagan caused the Giants to do some shuffling with their outfield down the stretch. Those injuries will result in Travis Ishikawa, who began the season in a first-base platoon on the Pirates, as the Giants' starting left fielder in the Wild Card Game. It'll be just his fourth start in left field all year. The Pirates, meanwhile, will counter with the well-rounded Starling Marte in left field. Marte was one of just three players this year to hit 10 or more home runs and swipe at least 30 bases, joining Carlos Gomez and Jacoby Ellsbury. Advantage: Pirates
Pagan's absence certainly impacts this matchup, though it's one the Pirates would win either way. Andrew McCutchen, the defending NL MVP, was every bit as good, if not even better, this year for the Pirates. He posted a Major League-best .410 on-base percentage to go along with 25 home runs, 38 doubles, 83 RBIs and 18 stolen bases. The Giants will start Gregor Blanco, who may be tasked with setting the table at the top of the order in Pagan's absence. Advantage: Pirates
Along with continuing to be one of the Giants' emotional leaders on and off the field, Hunter Pence did something this year that no other player in the Majors accomplished: The three-time All-Star was the only big leaguer to hit at least 20 home runs and doubles, as well as 10 or more triples. The durable Pence also played in all 162 games for the second straight year. Travis Snider has done a respectable job since entering the starting lineup, though he spent much of the year as one of the Pirates' top pinch-hitting options off the bench. Advantage: Giants
Davis' health could play a pivotal role in this game. He's been battling flu-like symptoms the past few days, though he would not have been in the starting lineup against a left-hander anyway. That said, if he's able to make a late-game pinch-hitting appearance, he's capable of changing the game with one swing of the bat. No team racked up more pinch-hit RBIs this year than the Pirates' 43, though 21 of those came from Sanchez and Snider, who are both expected to start on Wednesday. The injuries to Pagan and Morse, meanwhile, have forced some of the Giants' top bench options into the starting lineup in recent weeks. Advantage: Pirates
One of the most-talked about topics surrounding this game is the Pirates' decision to start ace Gerrit Cole in Sunday's regular-season finale instead of saving him for Wednesday's Wild Card Game. That leaves Volquez -- just one year removed from posting a Major League-worst 5.71 ERA -- to start the Wild Card Game. Volquez, however, has been an entirely different pitcher this year, finishing with a 3.04 ERA and going 5-0 with a 1.63 ERA over the final two months. That said, the Giants are still turning to their ace Bumgarner, who went 18-10 with a 2.98 ERA, including 11-4 with a 2.22 ERA on the road. Advantage: Giants
Both clubs have found stability after undergoing midseason changes to their bullpen hierarchy. The Giants removed Sergio Romo from the closer's role, which proved to be a turning point in Romo's season. He's posted a 2.10 ERA in 30 appearances since the change, after struggling to a 5.01 ERA in his first 34 outings. That said, Tony Watson has been incredible all year for the Pirates, tallying 10 wins while posting a 1.63 ERA in 78 appearances. The Pirates have a 2.80 team bullpen ERA since Aug. 1, while the Giants have a 3.98 ERA in that span. Advantage: Pirates
Both Mark Melancon and Santiago Casilla have done a remarkable job after being thrust into the closer's role midseason. Melancon took over for struggling closer Jason Grilli in early May, while Casilla replaced Romo at the end of June. Melancon excelled on his way to 33 saves, while also allowing just four earned runs over 40 1/3 innings at PNC Park this year -- good for a 0.89 home ERA. Casilla notched 19 saves to go with a 1.70 ERA, but has a 3.06 ERA since Aug. 1. Melancon has a 1.48 ERA in that same span. Advantage: Pirates