Sep 23, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto (47) pitches during the first inning against the New York Mets at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

2013 MLB Playoffs: Will Pirates finally solve Johnny Cueto?


There’s a lot of good news surrounding the Pittsburgh Pirates entering the 2013 MLB Playoffs. For the first time in a span of two decades, the Bucs will be hosting playoff baseball in the city of Pittsburgh, a first for PNC Park.

But as always, good news always comes with a dose of bad news as well.

Sep 16, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto (47) walks off the mound during the first inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

This time it comes in the form of Cincinnati Reds starter Johnny Cueto.

Cueto is to the Pirates what kryptonite is to Superman and if there was one pitcher in the National League not named Clayton Kershaw I would have hoped the Bucs could have stayed away from this postseason, it certainly would be Cueto.

The Cincinnati right-hander sports a career 13-4 with a 2.37 ERA against the Bucs, which includes an 8-2 mark and 1.90 ERA at PNC Park while holding hitters to a .544 OPS.

Usually with a one-game playoff matchup at the end of the season it is quite difficult for managers to get the matchup they want, but because the Reds weren’t in competition for the division crown the last week of the season and the fact that had one of the wild card spots locked up, Dusty Baker gets to run his ace out Tuesday night against the Pirates.

While that’s bad news on some fronts, it could be good news as well for the Pirates.

The biggest question the Reds must answer is wondering if Cueto is ready for this start, which is something that could play to the Pirates advantage.

The right-hander has been battling shoulder problems throughout much of the season and has only made a pair of starts since coming back from the disabled list.

He did allow only one earned run in 12 innings of work, but those starts came against the Houston Astros and New York Mets, not a quality sample size. The Pirates lineup is much deeper and talented than the two teams that Cueto has faced so far since coming back, so we will find out if he is ready for the challenge or not.

While Cueto’s velocity on his fastball (93.32 4-seam; 92.9 2-seam per Brooks Baseball) in his last two starts is only slightly down from his 2012 season, he wasn’t exactly his overpowering self in his two comeback starts, striking out only 10 and walking four.

Overall, it’s been an ugly history against Cueto for Pirates hitters, as you can see here (via ESPN.com):

Player AB AVG OBP SLUG OPS K/BB
Garrett Jones 39 .282 .349 .513 .862 11/4
Andrew McCutchen 39 .231 .333 .513 .846 6/5
Neil Walker 28 .214 .333 .250 .583 5/4
Pedro Alvarez 18 .278 .333 .278 .611 4/2
Clint Barmes 14 .143 .143 .214 .357 3/0
Marlon Byrd 12 .583 .643 .917 1.560 2/2
Russell Martin 11 .091 .091 .182 .273 2/0
Starling Marte 5 .000 .000 .000 .000 2/0

 

Guys like Walker and Alvarez have struggled big time against Cueto, but they are two of the Bucs hottest hitters going into Tuesday night as they both wore out Reds pitching over the weekend.

And while Cueto has dominated the Pirates in the past, he hasn’t done so against the deep lineup he will be facing Tuesday night, something that could mean all of the difference in the world.

They, along with the rest of the Pirates hitters will have to figure out Cueto, even just for one night.

In a perfect world, it would be nice to see the Bucs jump on Cueto for six runs in the first inning, but judging by the resume’s of Cueto and Pirates starter Francisco Liriano against the Reds, this is going to be a dog fight from the opening pitch until the final out is recorded.

The Pirates have a date with the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday.

To make it a reality though, they must find a way to solve their on kryptonite.

Tags: Cincinnati Reds Johnny Cueto Pittsburgh Pirates

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