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Post-season Gameday Thread, #2: Reds vs. Pirates

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After the not-technically-a-post-season Gameday Thread yesterday, we continue with the first "true" playoff contest, the National League wild-card game in Pittsburgh.

Justin K. Aller

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Johnnie Cueto
RHP, 5-2, 2.82
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Francisco Liriano
LHP, 16-8, 3.02

As mentioned earlier, Pirates fans in the playoffs, have to feel like Melissa McCarthy at the 2012 Oscars: simply being here is miraculous, even if absolutely nothing else happens. That's both a good and bad place to be for a winner takes all game. In the event that Pittsburgh end up being one and done, the letdown for their fans will probably be a lot less than for any other team. But against that, you have to wonder whether their players, having reached heights unseen by the franchise over the past two decades, will be fully motivated to push on further. Or might the occasion of playing in the first playoff game Pittsburgh has seen since 1992, be too much?

When it comes down to win-or-die contests like this, it's often not necessarily the "better" team that wins, but the one that makes the fewest mistakes, or the one which capitalizes best on those made by their opponents. Game 7 of the 2001 World Series could have been a very different animal if Mariano Rivera hadn't made an error on Damian Miller's bunt in the ninth [Rivera had one error and a .993 fielding percentage during the regular season, to that point in his career]. Things like that can give the opposing team a feeling of destiny, that fate is on their side, and when you're talking about evenly-matched teams, that psychological edge can be crucial.

Just look at last year's NLCS between the Cardinals and the Giants. In six of the seven contests, one side made more errors than the other. In every game, it was the team making fewer errors who came out on top. It seems a bit like football where turnover differential is a useful tool to determine a team's success or failure - the same metric also gave yesterday's game to the Rays. When it comes to the post-season, sound fundamental baseball is crucial. You probably won't have made it this far without that skill: however, maintaining that excellence of execution is now even more important.