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2014 MLB Playoffs: Wild Card Predictions

We simulate the Giants vs. Pirates and A's vs. Royals to predict the Wild Card winners

WhatIfSports.com
September 30, 2014

Six months of labor boil down to one night. In its second year of infancy, the revamped Wild Card system bestows two must-watch matchups. Kansas City, welcoming playoff baseball into town for the first time since 1985, takes on a dangerous Oakland club, while the National League play-in game sees the Giants traveling to Pittsburgh, which bestowed one of the more memorable fall theaters in recent memory last season. With two enticing bouts on the slate, WhatIfSports.com is proud to kick off its coverage of the 2014 Major League Baseball playoffs.

NL Wild Card Prediction: Giants at Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates find themselves in a bit of a quandary. With a chance at the division title on Sunday, the Buccos decided to roll the dice by sending Gerrit Cole to the mound. Though Cole turned in a gem, the Pirates fell short, dispatching the team to the dreaded elimination game. As a corollary, the Pirates' gamble leaves the ball with Edinson Volquez as the Wild Card starter.

Conversely, perhaps this is not the worst of fates. Volquez enjoyed a career rejuvenation in Pennsylvania, posting a 3.04 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 32 outings this summer. Better yet, the 31-year-old was lights-out in PNC Park, allowing a mere five long balls in 106 innings of work (versus 12 homers in 86 2/3 innings on the road). Coupled with his strong showing as of late (1.78 ERA in his last 12 starts), Pirates fans should feel confident with Volquez on the rubber Wednesday night.

NL Wild Card ERAs
Team ERA
Madison Bumgarner 4.85
Edinson Volquez 5.22
Giants Bullpen 3.63
Pirates Bullpen 5.94

Opposing Volquez will by San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner. While the Giants' AT&T Park has the reputation of a pitcher-friendly environment, it's been anything but for Bumgarner, evidenced in his 4.03 ERA at home in 2014. Hence, while the club would certainly favor a date in the Bay Area, riding Bumgarner and his 2.22 away ERA to the Steel City could be just what the doctor ordered.

Not that this playoff game will be strictly a pitching affair. Both teams flaunt capable lineups, with Pittsburgh ranking fourth and San Francisco fifth in runs scored. Look for the Pirates and their .330 on-base percentage (second in the NL) to test the patience of the Giants' arms, while San Fran tries to leverage its top-heavy order to get to Volquez early.

So who emerges from Pittsburgh victorious? According to the award-winning WhatIfSports.com simulation engine, the Giants come out on top 55.4 percent of the time by an average score of 5.5-4.8.

NL Wild Card: Giants vs. Pirates
TeamWin %Avg. ScoreWIS Interactive
San Francisco Giants55.45.5Simulate
@ Pittsburgh Pirates44.64.8NL Wild Card

AL Wild Card Prediction: Athletics at Royals

Kansas City is known for its barbeque and football, yet it's often overlooked for its collective affinity for America's pastime. Failing to log a postseason appearance since "Back to the Future" was in theaters probably has something to do with this neglect. Expect Kauffman Stadium to be rocking as the Royals and A's square off in the American League Wild Card.

Oakland is giving the nod to Jon Lester on Tuesday night. Since arriving from Boston, Lester has rewarded the A's conviction with a 2.35 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 11 starts. Moreover, Lester has plenty of playoff experience under his belt, owning a 2.11 ERA in over 76 innings of postseason action. Though Lester has been better at home this year, he still has been solid in road endeavors, giving Oakland its best chance to notch the W in Missouri.

AL Wild Card ERAs
Team ERA
Jon Lester 3.57
James Shields 4.56
A's Bullpen 2.79
Royals Bullpen 5.06

In truth, the A's real worries reside with the lumber. Following the All-Star break, Oakland has been lost at the plate, hitting a league-worst .233 with a .306 OBP and .352 slugging percentage. The departure of Yoenis Cespedes is viewed as the catalyst for these woes, with only Josh Donaldson and Josh Reddick immune to this contagion. For the A's to prolong their season, the bats will need to wake up.

Confronting the one they call "Big Game James" won't help these matters. James Shields has been everything the Royals could have hoped for and more, logging 455 innings in the past two seasons with a 3.18 ERA. Like Lester, Shields won't be jilted by the bright lights thanks to six previous postseason starts. Backed by a sound bullpen (only Detroit relievers had fewer losses than the Royals) the Kansas City staff offers little room for error.

Will the Royals faithful be compensated for the wait? According to the WhatIfSports.com simulation engine, the A's move on, winning 57.4 percent of the time by an average score of 5.3-3.6.

AL Wild Card: Athletics vs. Royals
TeamWin %Avg. ScoreWIS Interactive
Oakland Athletics57.45.3Simulate
@ Kansas City Royals42.63.6AL Wild Card
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Joel Beall is the Assistant Content Manager for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at jbeall@whatifsports.com.

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