SAN FRANCISCO – With one day remaining on the regular-season schedule, the Giants still don’t know their opponent for Wednesday’s NL Wild Card showdown game.
And they’re in no hurry to find out.
The St. Louis Cardinals missed a chance to clinch the NL Central with a loss at Arizona Saturday night, leaving the Pittsburgh Pirates one game back in the standings.
The Pirates could clinch a tie for the division if they beat the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday and the Cardinals drop another to the Diamondbacks. That would mean the Buccos would have to beat Reds ace Johnny Cueto, though, who is expected to finish in the top three in Cy Young Award balloting. The Cardinals have their ace, Adam Wainwright, on the mound in Arizona, too.
If the Cards and Pirates tie atop the NL Central standings, they would hold a one-game playoff to determine a division winner on Monday, with the loser advancing to play host to the Giants in the wild card game.
Wouldn’t it be advantageous to the Giants if the Pirates and Cards have to spend more bullets?
“I don’t know how to quantify, that, I don’t,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “There’s talk of teams that fought all the way to the end having an advantage because they’re in that mode. Then you talk about using pitching they might not have used. But both teams have depth in their rotation, so I don’t know.”
The Diamondbacks did the Giants one favor by winning Saturday night. The Pirates, because they retained a chance to win the NL Central, will be much less likely to scratch hard-throwing right-hander Gerrit Cole from his start Sunday against the Reds. If they had skipped Cole, he’d be their expected choice to start the wild card game.
Cole, as you might recall, played baseball at UCLA and is the longtime boyfriend of Amy Crawford, sister of Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford.
If the Pirates use Cole on Sunday and end up in the wild card game, they could turn to right-hander Vance Worley, right-hander Edinson Volquez or even left-hander Francisco Liriano on short rest, perhaps taking advantage of the fact the Giants are 29-30 in games started by left-handed pitchers.
The Giants already have left-handed hitters at first base (Brandon Belt), shortstop (Brandon Crawford, although he has a pronounced reverse split) and center field (Gregor Blanco). They’d also have a tougher time picking a left fielder, since Travis Ishikawa is their most experienced option and he hits left-handed. Juan Perez and rookie Chris Dominguez are the other options they’ve tried since losing Angel Pagan to back surgery.
If the Cardinals fall into the NL Central tiebreaker game, they’re planning to start right-hander Shelby Miller against the Pirates. Should the Cards fall further into the wild card game against the Giants, they would choose between Michael Wacha and John Lackey – the Giants’ old acquaintance from Game 7 of the 2002 World Series.
For the Giants, the starting pitcher is left-hander Madison Bumgarner in any scenario. They just need to know whether to affix PIT or STL to their luggage tags – and they might not have that answer until late Monday.