|Edinson Volquez pitched lights out for the Pirates win|
On Thursday the Pittsburgh Pirates walloped Atlanta to move to one game behind St. Louis for the division title. The San Francisco Giants held on to defeat San Diego to remain one game behind the Pirates for (essentially) home field advantage in the Wild Card game. However, that Wild Card game could instead be with St. Louis if the Pirates take the division.
If you were playing the odds, you'd probably figure that the situation will wind up as it is now. Not just the math but the matchups. The Cardinals finish the season in Arizona, while the Pirates finish theirs with three games in Cincinnati. The Reds are a better team than Arizona, which is also in management chaos. The Pirates however are the hotter team, though not by much over St. Louis, their recent nemesis in the division.
Enthused by backing into a playoff spot by the Brewers loss earlier in the day, the Giants' bats came alive Thursday. An especially good sign was the splash homer by Brandon Belt. Unfortunately their pitching went to hell, and they blew a 6-0 lead to come from behind for a 9-8 victory. Then they celebrated their Wild Card before the Bay Area fans.
|Brandon Belt's power will be needed for the Giants|
The Pirates seem much better equipped to win a series, even the long one of the World Series seven games. They are hitting much better and they have the starting pitching. The Giants have playoff experience but weaker hitting and probably just three reliable starters.
But of course that doesn't matter in a one game win or go home. Anything can happen to win a single game or to lose it. That's where the Giants postseason experience comes in, but the Pirates have also demonstrated a steadiness under pressure and an ability to come from behind. You have to question the Giants hitting ability on that. As for pitching, the Giants have the luxury of holding Bumgarner out for the wild card game, while the Pirates have to go all out to try to win the division, so they can't hold anyone out.
There's even the possibility of a Central Division tie, in which case the Pirates and Cards play a one game playoff for the division title. The advantage of winning the division is tremendous. It means no one and done, and no fewer than 5 games to decide anything.