Here are five things to watch for as we approach tonight's Wild Card game:
1. Travis Ishikawa vs. Starling Marte in left field. I've mentioned this a couple times already, but it bears repeating: Travis Ishikawa isn't a left fielder, and playing left field at PNC Park is hard. The Giants, meanwhile, have a left-handed starter who allows most of his line drives to left field. Yes please. The enormous gap between Marte and Ishikawa can be a big edge for the Pirates. Here's hoping they find a way to exploit it.
2. Madison Bumgarner's hitting. Bumgarner is hitting .258/.286/.470 this season, a line that would be pretty good even for an outfielder. There's more than a little small-sample-size weirdness going on here, but Bumgarner has four home runs this season (including two grand slams) and isn't at all an automatic out at the plate.
3. John Holdzkom and Hunter Strickland's K-Rod impersonations. David wrote about this yesterday -- the Pirates and Giants each have an out-of-nowhere reliever who has been nails down the stretch. The Giants' is Hunter Strickland, a former middling Pirates pitching prospect who dominated in Class A+ and Double-A this year and has struck out nine batters in his first seven big-league innings, all while throwing 98 MPH. We'll see if the Giants have the guts to call on him if a big situation arises.
4. Russell Martin's hamstring. Martin is probably a big part of Edinson Volquez's success this season. He has said that his hamstring "will be fine," and let's hope so. That the Pirates had two days off before tonight's game was probably a blessing.
5. Bumgarner's high fastballs. Bumgarner made the high fastball a big part of his repertoire down the stretch, partially as a way of adjusting to hitters who increasingly expect pitches low in the zone. Unsurprisingly, Andrew McCutchen and Josh Harrison have been the Pirates' best hitters against fastballs this season.