The 1971 National League Championship Series featured the eventual World Series champions from Pittsburgh against the San Francisco Giants. Back then, the NLCS was just a best-of-five affair, and the Pirates won it in four games before beating the Baltimore Orioles in seven to win the title.
For the first time since then, the Giants and the Pirates will face off in the playoffs again — but this time, it’s just a one-game, wild-card playoff elimination for the right to go to the NL Division Series and its five-game format.
Oh, how times have changed for baseball.
The goal, however, remains the same for all teams playing in October: win any which way you can so you can live to fight another day and hold that big shiny trophy over your collective heads.
1. The Giants and the Legend of Even Years
San Francisco won unlikely World Series titles in 2010 and 2012, so perhaps they have a “thing” for even-numbered Octobers now. And as the Giants proved both those postseasons, all you need to do is get in, catch fire and hold on to a hot streak. S.F. is not anyone’s favorite this time around to win the World Series, but it would be wrong to count out a roster that has so much playoff success under its belt.
2. The Pirates Are on a Mission
Last season, Pittsburgh was in the playoffs for the first time since 1992, and the team may have been just happy to be there. The Pirates lost a decisive Game Five in the NLDS to division-rival St. Louis, and they would like to get another shot at either the Cardinals or advancing to the NLCS in 2014. The Pirates have a lot of the same players from last year, so inexperience isn’t a factor for them this time around.
3. What Happened to San Francisco After June 8?
The Giants had a 42-21 record in early June, which was an unsustainable win percentage. They crashed to earth pretty hard for the next few months, posting a 22-37 record and finding themselves out of division contention on August 15. But S.F. recovered with a strong finish: the club went 24-16 down the stretch to make the postseason for the third time in five seasons. The Giants have overcome a lot of adversity this year, so they won’t blink at playing a road game in a hostile environment.
4. No MVP Fade for McCutchen
After S.F. catcher Buster Posey won the 2012 NL MVP award, he dropped off big-time in 2013. Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen won the award last year, and the Pittsburgh star has been even better in 2014, improving his OPS by 41 points and making his fourth straight All-Star team this summer. He is as good as it gets in the major leagues today, and at age 27, he’s just entering his prime. What better way to prove that to the country by carrying the team on his back through the postseason?
5. MadBum Has Been There, Done That
The Giants definitely have the edge on the mound for this game, as their starter has earned some postseason stripes. In 2010 as a rookie, lefty Madison Bumgarner tossed eight innings of shutout baseball in the World Series against the Texas Rangers. In contrast, the Pirates starter tonight — Edison Volquez — has less than two innings of playoff pitching: he was the losing pitcher when Roy Halladay threw a no-hitter in the 2010 NLDS.
6. Pirates Early and Late
In early May, the two teams met in Pittsburgh for a three-game series, and the Pirates won two of those games. That’s when the Giants were playing very good baseball. In late July, S.F. was sinking, and Pittsburgh beat them two times out of three again, this time on the road. So it really didn’t matter when the Pirates played the Giants this year or where: Pittsburgh won the season series in convincing fashion. What that means for Wednesday night’s game, though, is anyone’s guess.
7. Momentum Is Tomorrow’s Starting Pitcher
Despite the inexperience of Volquez in the postseason, the veteran righty might be the horse to back in this one. He hasn’t lost a start since July 21, actually, and Volquez also is pitching on normal rest. Meanwhile, Bumgarner may be rusty: he hasn’t pitched in a live game since last Tuesday, when he lost to Los Angeles Dodgers with the NL West division title still within reach for the Giants. MadBum has given up six runs in his last 13.1 innings, and he’s only started four games since the end of August.