Yep, been a long time since we've been here, and the rules are a little different. Here's what the Bucs are looking at this weekend as far as playoff options:
NL Central title: The odds against first place are overwhelming, with yesterday's loss making them even more infinitesimal. The Pirates need the sad sack Cubs to sweep the Cards at Busch Stadium and in turn have to sweep the Reds at GABP. And all that earns them is a one-game tie breaker. True, the Bucs hold a 10-9 series edge, but that doesn't break a tie for first. It just determines the home team for the title deciding playoff game.
Home team for the play-in game: The Pirate loss makes this simple; whoever wins two games in the weekend series against the Reds at GABP hosts the game. Pittsburgh is a game ahead, but 2-of-3 by the Reds will result in a tie, and Cincy would hold a 10-9 series edge to earn home field advantage.
The series will probably line up with AJ v Homer Bailey, Charlie Morton v Bronson Arroyo, and Gerrit Cole v long-time Pirate killer Johnny Cueto, though the third game will be in pencil, depending on the results of the first two. This, of course, isn't a make-or-break set of games, although home field for the one contest that counts on Tuesday night is big.
Things to look for: With Liriano tossing 103 pitches yesterday, the odds of him working the Red series on short rest are pretty much zero, making him the odds-on favorite to start the play-in game, especially with a Red lineup that includes lefties Shin-Soo Choo, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. But if the third game is meaningless because one team or another has taken the first two, Clint Hurdle could sit Gerrit Cole and have him as a wild card option, especially if it's a road game. Frankie has a big home-away split of 1.47 ERA at PNC Park and 4.32 elsewhere. And at GABP, he's 0-2 with a 6.10 ERA, though Cole has no track record, having never faced Cincy.
Either way, the Reds moved Mat Latos so that he'll likely start the play-in match. He's 1-1/4.08 versus the Bucs, pitching a little better at PNC than at GABP, the small stat difference probably due to park factors. As with the Pirates and Cole, if the third game is meaningless, Dusty Baker will have Cueto up his sleeve.