The last day of the season turned out to be the last day of the season. Before the games began on Sunday, it was possible for three division titles to still be decided by a game on Monday. But none of the second place teams could earn a tie.
That included the Pittsburgh Pirates, who lost to the Reds' ace (and now 20 game winner) early in the day, even before St. Louis won their game. Either outcome meant that Pittsburgh would host the SF Giants in the Wild Card game on Wednesday, and that's what will happen.
The Pirates gambled on the possibility of earning that tie and then winning the division by sending out their ace (Gerit Cole) to pitch Sunday. Their loss meant that St. Louis scrapped their starting lineup that evening, including their ace, saving them all for the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the San Francisco Giants sent a rookie pitcher to the mound, and otherwise used the game as a tuneup for Wednesday. They won easily over the Padres.
So it looks as if the Giants will send their ace Madison Bumgarner to the mound on Wednesday, while the Pirates will likely use a surprise starter, Edinson Volquez. The Giants seem pleased with the match-up.
So apart from the very apropos warning that in a single game, anything can happen, who has the edge? The Pirates are playing at home, but they're coming off losing two tough games. Volquez has been lights out in his recent starts, but that hasn't always been the case, and unless I'm mistaken this may be his first playoff game. Volquez seems likely to be either devastating or gotten to quickly. Bumgarner is steady, with great perseverance.
The Pirates have two hitters near the top of the league in average, and a lineup that's loaded with power. The only significant injury might be to catcher Russell Martin, though that could be very significant. (No word yet on whether he will play.) And the team has the best home record in the league. So in significant ways they should be the favorites (and they are clearly the better team for the long haul--that is, they are likely to go deeper into the playoffs than are the Giants.)
The Giants have lost the key to their lineup in Angel Pagan, and one of their power hitters in Michael Morse to injuries. Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence are in deep slumps, especially for power. Sandoval and to an extent Buster Posey are playing hurt. So the Giants don't seem to have a lot of margin for error. But there are possible advantages to some of these disadvantages. The Pirates haven't seen (or seen much of) their rookies. And their flamethrowing rookie reliever Hunter Strickland could very well be the Giants' secret weapon.
What nags at me is how loose the Giants are. They had two meaningless games that they won. The players, management, and the announcers (maybe especially the announcers) seem almost giddy to be in the postseason. They are counting on their exploits of the past, and that confidence. That and Bumgarner (and the Pirates can be stopped by really good pitching) may give them an edge, if the Pirates are tired or tight.
So where does all this place me, fanwise? On other occasions that they played each other I could just root for the home team and really not worry much. But in the past week it's become clear where my deepest loyalties lie, and that's with the Pirates. So I'm rooting for them in the Wild Card game and, if they win, beyond it. But if the Giants win, I'll be rooting for them the rest of the way.
This game has one significant advantage for me: I am without TV capability, but a local radio station carries the Giants and will carry this game. So I can listen to the game on the radio, broadcast by the Giants' radio team I've been listening to with great pleasure all season.
A side note: though I haven't followed them, the other Bay Area team--the Oakland A's, got their American League division Wild Card on Sunday. They play Tuesday.