At just past 8 p.m. Tuesday, PNC Park will get its first dose of playoff baseball in its 12 years of existence. For the Pittsburgh Pirates, it will be the first time since 1992 that the franchise has seen postseason baseball, let alone a home playoff game.
After sweeping the Cincinnati Reds in the Queen City over the weekend to lock up the NL's top wild-card spot, the Pirates come into Tuesday night's matchup riding high. Playing in front of the home crowd was exactly what manager Clint Hurdle wanted for his players, and the opportunity to do so could pay big dividends.
"The important thing for me is getting the guys to play in a park where we won 50 games this season and giving our fans a taste of postseason in baseball," Hurdle said, via John Perrotto of Yahoo! Sports.
That home-field advantage is something that should have a huge effect on the upcoming game, as Tuesday's starter Francisco Liriano (16-8, 3.02 ERA) was 8-1 with a 1.47 ERA on the North Shore this year. Those numbers in 73.2 innings also include 70 Ks and only two home runs allowed.
Consequently, Liriano's only loss at home this season was to the Reds on June 1; a tough-luck, 2-0 loss.
In his 11 starts at PNC Park, Liriano never allowed more than four runs in a given start, and his shortest outing was 5.2 innings—his second start of the season.
As it often seemed the case this year with Liriano's stellar outings, the onus will likely be on the Pirates offense Tuesday to put runs on the board to take advantage of the pitching.
The team's recent six-home run outburst at Great American Ball Park helped secure home field, but PNC Park isn't as generous to home run hitters.
Despite that fact, the Pirates have scored just one more run at Great American than at PNC Park in the 19 games the two teams have played against each other. The alarming discrepancy is in the runs allowed department, with the Pirates yielding 27 runs over 10 games in Cincinnati and a whopping 44 over nine games in Pittsburgh.
Liriano is the gamechanger. Lefty's have struggled immensely against the former White Sox and Twins pitcher, and that is evident when looking at the batter vs. pitcher splits, via ESPN.com.
For the Reds, Johnny Cueto (5-2, 2.82) takes the mound in what will be his third start since returning from the disabled list in September.
In his career, Cueto has dominated the Pirates like no other franchise in MLB. The right-hander owns a 13-4 career mark in 21 starts against the Bucs with an impressive 2.37 ERA in 133 innings. On top of that, Cueto is 8-2 with a 1.90 ERA at PNC Park in 13 career starts.
Questions regarding his current form will be the ones that come up, as his previous history is well documented.
The matchup to watch will be Marlon Byrd against Cueto. In his career, Byrd is 7-for-12 with a home run and three RBI against the Cincinnati starter.
Andrew McCutchen has three home runs in 39 at-bats off of Cueto, but otherwise, there are no real mismatches for the Pirates to exploit.
While Liriano staying consistent is a key, the bats will have to come to life for the Pirates to be on their way to the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals.
First pitch is set for 8:07 p.m. EDT, and the game can be seen on TBS.