2013 MLB Wild Card Playoff Games: Who Will Win?

Indians vs. Rays, Pirates vs. Reds: Who Wins?

The Indians finished strong and will host the AL wild card game.

The Indians finished strong and will host the AL wild card game. (Credit Opertinicy)

After 162 games (or if you’re the Tampa Bay Rays, 163 of them), the 2013 MLB season is complete – let the postseason begin! For the first time in MLB history, two wild card teams in each league will compete in a one game playoff to determine who advances to the ALDS and NLDS. Their respective opponents – the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals – are set. The question is, who will advance?

In the American League, the Cleveland Indians and Tampa Bay Rays meet in a clash of teams with impressive runs to close the regular season. The Rays posted an 8-2 mark over their last 10 games with 5 wins coming on the road. The Indians were a perfect 10-0 over their last 10, storming up the standings to capture the AL’s #1 wild card berth.

In the National League, two NL Central clubs meet in a storied rivalry with plenty of emotional weight. The Pittsburgh Pirates host their first playoff game after 20 consecutive losing seasons, and will play the Cincinnati Reds, who look to write some postseason history of their own. Outside a late-September series, these two clubs split their first 16 meetings of the season down the middle.

So what are the key statistics headed into these tense, must-win MLB wild card playoff games? Who are the starting pitchers? What “X-factors” will play into the matchups? And ultimately, in two “one-and-done” games, who will come out on top and advance one step closer to the 2013 World Series?

AL Wild Card Playoffs: Cleveland Indians vs. Tampa Bay Rays

Projected Pitching Matchup: Danny Salazar (CLE) vs. Alex Cobb (TB)

2013 Team Stats:

CLE: 7th in OBP, 8th in OPS, 15th in ERA, 20th in Errors

TB: 5th in OBP, 7th in OPS, 12th in ERA, 2nd in Errors

Last 10 Games: CLE 10-0, TB 8-2

2013 Regular Season Series Record: Tampa Bay, 4 games to 2

Game Prediction: The Rays enter this game riding two highs: one, their play-in victory over the Texas Rangers to secure the 2nd AL Wild Card spot, thanks to the complete game mastery of ace David Price. Two, the Rays have been absolute road warriors to close the season, going 5-2 against the Yankees, Blue Jays and Rangers to reach this game.

The Indians are the hottest team in Major League Baseball, winning their last 10 games of the season and going 21-6 in the month of September. Danny Salazar was sharp in his last start, going 5 1/3 innings and striking out 8 in a win over the White Sox. Alex Cobb was even more impressive in his last start, pitching 7 scoreless innings against the New York Yankees in a victory. Cobb has only allowed 1 earned run in his last 2 starts (15 1/3 innings).

So who has the edge? The Indians are on a roll, allowing 2 runs or fewer in 7 of their last 10 games (all wins), with an average game score of 5.7 to 2.4. The Rays are not intimidating by playing big games on the road, and start a stronger pitcher in Cobb.

Maybe it’s wrong to look purely at the intangibles; the seeming unwillingness of the Cleveland Indians to lose right now. But you can’t discount the veteran leadership and postseason experience of both players like Nick Swisher and Jason Giambi, as well as manager Terry Francona. Joe Maddon and his club will put up a battle, but we think one timely late-game hit will secure a win for the Indians.

The Pick: Cleveland Indians 4, Tampa Bay Rays 3

NL Wild Card Playoffs: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Cincinnati Reds

Projected Pitching Matchup: Francisco Liriano (PIT) vs. Johnny Cueto (CIN)

2013 Team Stats:

PIT: 17th in OBP, 17th in OPS, 3rd in ERA, 22nd in Errors

CIN: 6th in OBP, 14th in OPS, 4th in ERA, 7th in Errors

Last 10 Games: PIT 7-3, CIN 4-6

2013 Regular Season Series Record: Pittsburgh, 11 games to 8

Game Prediction: Statistically, the Cincinnati Reds look to have the edge in both batting and fielding over the Pirates. However, Pittsburgh has two key factors playing in its favor heading into this game: the Pirates are playing at home, and they swept 3 straight games over the Reds to close the regular season. In those 3 games, Pittsburgh scored 13 earned runs off Cincinnati’s 3 starters.

Francisco Liriano and Johnny Cueto square off in a battle of fireballers. Liriano led the Pirates with 16 wins on the season and posted a 9.11 K/9 ratio, along with a 3.02 ERA. Cueto counters for the Reds with a 5-2 record in a limited number of starts (11), a 2.82 ERA and 1.05 WHIP.

If you’re looking for a number that matters, consider this: Francisco Liriano recorded 0 wins and 3 losses vs. the Reds this season. Meanwhile, Johnny Cueto has a lifetime record of 13-4 vs. the Pirates.

Don’t put too much stock in the late-season sweep by the Pirates; both teams had clinched NL playoff berths at this point. While the emotional, heartfelt pick by casual observers would be for the Pittsburgh Pirates to continue their most successful season in 20 years by picking up a home playoff win, the unemotional – and therefore more logical – pick, for this one game, is to go with the Reds.

The Pick: Cincinnati Reds 5, Pittsburgh Pirates 2

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