Here's tonight's gamethread.
I don't usually give predictions for baseball games, because it's a fundamentally silly thing to do. In a sample size of one game, the edge any one team has over any other is small, and the edge one 90+-win team has over another is even smaller. That said, this seems like a good day to make an exception.
I'm going with the Pirates. This isn't homerism -- anyone who's been here for awhile knows I will absolutely pick against the Pirates if I believe it's the right call. And I'm not even saying the Pirates are a better team than the Reds.
But I do think the Pirates have the edge in this particular game, and Francisco Liriano is the reason. He's a lefty; the Reds have a .722 OPS against righties this year, and a .709 OPS against lefties. Shin-Soo Choo, who's leading off tonight, has a .612 season OPS against lefties. Jay Bruce has a .734 OPS against them, compared to .841 against righties. Joey Votto is at .824, vs. .977 against lefties. And two of the Reds' most effective hitters against lefties this year, Devin Mesoraco and Chris Heisey, aren't in the lineup. (No one tell Dusty.)
Also, Liriano isn't just any lefty. He is a lefty who eats his own for breakfast. He is the Hannibal Lecter of left-handers. Lefties are hitting .130/.175/.146 against him this year, with zero home runs and a ground ball rate of 68%. That means that Votto, Choo, and Bruce -- easily the Reds' best hitters this year -- could be in for a tough time.
Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto is no slouch himself, obviously. But let's forget about his career record against the Pirates. Most of that was accumulated against other players. Andrew McCutchen has a career .846 OPS against Cueto. Garrett Jones has done well against him (although he isn't starting). Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez haven't done so well. But everybody else on the team has fewer than 15 career plate appearances than Cueto.
In other words, the idea that Francisco Liriano has an edge against this particular Reds lineup because he's amazing against same-handed batters seems much more legitimate than the idea that Johnny Cueto has an edge against this particular group of Pirates because they happen to be wearing black and gold. Throw in the fact that this game will be played in front of a maniacal Pittsburgh crowd, and I like the Pirates' chances.
Again, though, the edges are small. Maybe the Reds score nine runs in the first inning, and we spend the next week sulking. Predictions are dumb. But if we're going to be dumb, the smart money is on the Bucs. Pirates 4-3.