From the first quick look, many thought that Clint Hurdle messed up by starting Gerrit Cole in his team's last game of the season, trying to make a push toward the NL Central division title.
The decision leaves Cole out of the question for the Pirates' first elimination game of the postseason Wednesday when the Giants come to PNC Park to play the NL wildcard game.
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But there aren't a whole lot of casual fans who have realized the type of second half Edinson Volquez has put together. Volquez, who came over from San Diego as a free agent during the offseason, has simply been one of the best starting pitchers in baseball over the last two months.
Much like Francisco Liriano last season, Volquez came to Pittsburgh known for electric stuff, but an inability to stay healthy. And like Liriano, he has completely turned it around in an injury-free season as a Pirate.
Volquez has enjoyed a sub-2.00 ERA since the All-Star break this season. He's given up just 13 earned runs in 71.2 innings since the start of August, which equates to a 1.64 mark over his last 11 starts. In a rotation that doesn't have a clear-cut ace, Volquez is certainly Pittsburgh's best starter going.
Giants have the ace
The Giants, meanwhile, do have that ace. And they'll have him on the mound Wednesday. Madison Bumgarner and his 18 wins take the mound at PNC Park to face the Pirates for the second time this season.
Bumgarner got roughed around in his only other start against the Bucs this season, when he surrendered five runs in just four innings. But he still finished the season with a sub-3 ERA and those 18 wins. He also became the first pitcher to finish with an ERA that low while hitting four home runs in a season since Bob Gibson.
Like in the American League version of this matchup, neither team projects to score a whole bunch of runs. Each side has their MVP leader (McCutchen and Posey) and shares some recent postseason experience.
While the Giants have had the two NL pennants of late, the Pirates advanced five games into the NLDS last season. And like the AL game, this one is incredibly tough to confidently pick a winner in.
Because of their recent success but lack of any last season, I think the Giants will come out just a little bit hungrier for this game. They also have the pitcher with more postseason experience in a game where it will likely matter.
San Francisco: 5, Pittsburgh: 3
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