Three keys for Bucs in Wild Card Game vs. Giants
PITTSBURGH -- Even though it wasn't confirmed until the final out of the final game, the Pirates for a long time had the sense of being on a Wild Card collision course with the Giants. So they've had ample chance to get comfortable with the idea of handling this obstacle into the National League Division Series.
Comfortable, indeed, is how they feel. Having the game in PNC Park adds to their confidence, but isn't the lone reason. The Bucs have matched up well with the Giants in the team's current configurations -- 14-11 during the Clint Hurdle era -- wherever they've played.
Being veterans of Wild Card urgency -- the Bucs are the first team to make a repeat appearance in the three-year-old format -- is a slight advantage. However, the circumstances this time are dramatically different from those of a year ago: In 2013, the Wild Card Game against the Reds was a unique extension of the teams' season-ending three-game series; this time, they confront a team they have not seen since July.
Win-it-all baseball games have a myriad of twists, turns, variables. For the Bucs, there are three primary keys that can unlock the door to the NLDS.
1. Edinson Volquez must remain in control
That applies to himself, as well as to his pitches. The veteran right-hander has traveled a remarkable road. Early in Spring Training, fans wanted to run him out of town even before he got here. Now they applaud giving him the ball in the biggest game.
Besides all the mechanical adjustments that go into such a dramatic turnaround -- in 2013, Volquez ranked last among all Major League starters with a 5.71 ERA -- Volquez has also conquered the excitability that made him vulnerable to big innings.
He has never had a bigger reason for emotions to get the best of him than he will Wednesday night. He must keep that slow heartbeat Hurdle always talks about.
2. The Pirates must handle Bumgarner
And we aren't even talking mound -- that's obvious -- but bat. The Bucs have recently suffered from an odd syndrome of giving up big hits to weak-hitting pitchers -- Johnny Cueto's game-winning single Sunday was only the latest example -- and now come across a legitimate swinger.
This is not an idle threat. Pirates pitchers have been challenged by deeper lineups that have a better chance of being turned around. While it may not be a perfect analogy, they were 3-7 in Interleague road games, against DH-rigged teams.
3. Pirates: Pride, Passion ... Pandemonium
Last year's Blacked-out crowd unquestionably helped beat the Reds -- just look at how Cueto fared against the Pirates before and since that memorable scene.
San Francisco does not know what it is in for. Buccos Nation will again offer the biggest home-field edge imaginable in baseball, and could erect a wall of noise not even Giants are big enough to scale.