MLB Betting: NL Wild-Card Game Opening Line Report
by Alan Matthews - 9/29/2014
I have to hand it to the Pittsburgh Pirates. I didn't believe they would return to the postseason this year, especially when reigning National League MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen was lost for a few weeks in August. But here they are back in the wild-card game. That the Giants are in the postseason isn't a shock. Why? Because it's an even-numbered year. San Francisco won the World Series in the past two even-numbered seasons. I don't expect that to happen again. San Francisco and Pittsburgh are the +700 long shots at WagerWeb to win the pennant. The winner of Wednesday's game will face the Washington Nationals in the NLDS.
Giants at Pirates (-104, 6)
It's pretty rare you will see a home team be an underdog in Game 1 of a playoff series -- I realize this is just a one-game playoff, but you know what I mean -- as Pittsburgh is because it's usually each team's ace starting. That's because the pitching matchup does appear to slightly favor the Giants, who are -116. They are +160 on the runline and Pittsburgh -190.
San Francisco starts left-hander Madison Bumgarner (18-10, 2.98), who is 3-2 with a 3.79 ERA in six career playoff starts. He might have won the Cy Young some other years with his excellent 2014 season, but that clearly won't happen with what Clayton Kershaw did. The Giants had won six straight starts by Bumgarner before he was hit around a bit in his final outing Sept. 23 at the Dodgers. He gave up four runs and six hits (three homers) in 7.1 innings. It was the first time that Bumgarner allowed more than three runs since July 28. And it was the only game this year in which he was touched for three home runs. Bumgarner, who was 11-4 with a 2.22 ERA on the road, faced Pittsburgh once, on that July 28 date in San Francisco. It was arguably his worst start of the year as he lasted four innings, tying his season low, and gave up five runs and six hits.
The Pirates jumped to a 4-0 lead after one, and Josh Harrison hit a solo shot in the second inning for all of Pittsburgh's runs. Harrison lost out to Colorado's Justin Morneau for the NL batting title, with Harrison finishing at .315, four points behind Morneau. Harrison is 4-for-5 career off Bumgarner. McCutchen, who finished third in the batting race at .314, is 2-for-10 with two strikeouts against him. Russell Martin, who could be playing his final game as a Pirate if they lose because he will be in demand in free agency, is 3-for-7 with an RBI off Bumgarner.
Pittsburgh goes with Edinson Volquez. Some have wondered if perhaps the Pirates shouldn't have used Gerrit Cole in the season finale and saved him for this start. The team had an outside shot of winning the division Sunday but would have had to beat the Reds and ace Johnny Cueto (Pirates didn't), have the Cardinals lose with ace Adam Wainwright on the mound and then beat St. Louis in a 163rd game on Monday. Volquez (13-7, 3.04) had a pretty amazing season considering he had the worst ERA of any qualified starter in 2013 at 5.71. He might win NL Comeback Player of the Year.
Volquez hasn't allowed more than three runs in a game since July 21. And he didn't allow any in his final two stars of the year spanning 14 innings vs. the Braves and Brewers (his scoreless innings streak is actually at 18). Volquez has a 1.10 ERA while holding opponents to a .170 batting average in his last six starts. He is 8-5 with a 3.06 ERA at home. Volquez didn't face the Giants this season but had a 6.08 ERA against them in 2013. In his only career postseason start, Volquez was chased after 1.2 innings as he allowed four runs vs. the Phillies in Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS while with Cincinnati.
Hunter Pence has three homers and nine RBIs off him career but hits just .194 in 36 at-bats. Buster Posey is 5-for-9 with two doubles vs. Volquez. Brandon Belt is 8-for-18 with a double, homer and five RBIs. Pablo Sandoval is 6-for-13 with three RBIs. The Giants, who are without outfielder and leadoff man Angel Pagan the rest of the season, probably won't have Michael Morse, either. He has played in one game this month because of an oblique injury. Morse hit .279 with 16 homers and 61 RBIs.
It's always important to score first in a playoff game, and San Francisco was 65-18 when scoring first this year. The Pirates won the season series 4-2, taking two of three at home from May 5-7.
Key trends: San Francisco has won seven straight Bumgarner starts as a road favorite. The Giants are 7-2 in his past nine with seven or more days of rest. They are 2-5 in their past seven against right-handers. Pittsburgh is 6-1 in its past seven vs. lefties. The Pirates are 4-10 in their past 14 as an underdog. The "over/under" has gone under in four of Bumgarner's past five on the road. The under is 7-0 in Pittsburgh's past seven at home vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 4-0 in Bumgarner's past four against Pittsburgh.
Early lean: Go under and Pirates. The Giants' offense is missing two key guys and generally struggled in the final couple of weeks. San Francisco lost nine of its final 15, while the Pirates closed strong.
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