CLOSE

Now Commenting On:

Giants, MadBum slam Pirates in Wild Card

Lefty hurls shutout, backed by shortstop's huge homer

Giants, MadBum slam Pirates in Wild Card

PITTSBURGH -- Madison Bumgarner was named National League Pitcher of the Month for May and August. If the award's distribution extended into the postseason, the Giants left-hander also would have a head start on October, particularly after Wednesday night.

Bumgarner dominated the NL Wild Card Game, silencing the Pittsburgh Pirates and a record PNC Park crowd of 40,629 with a four-hitter in San Francisco's 8-0 triumph. While Brandon Crawford's fourth-inning grand slam highlighted the Giants' offense, it was Bumgarner's performance that subdued the Pirates immediately and kept them at a disadvantage until the final out.

More

San Francisco advanced to an NL Division Series matchup against the Washington Nationals beginning Friday in the nation's capital. Under the series' best-of-five format, the Giants are guaranteed at least one home date at AT&T Park -- Game 3 on Monday.

A defeat would have ended the Giants' season. But they're proving that they simply don't lose showdown games such as this one. As Casey Stengel said, you can look it up. They not only captured their eighth consecutive postseason game, but they also lengthened their winning streak in elimination games to seven.

"They have that DNA," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said, "and they found it again today."

Bumgarner obviously possesses genes that enhance concentration, calm and competitiveness. Ignoring the howling partisan crowd and the game's must-win imperative, he maintained his typical precision, issuing only one walk while striking out 10. Of the 109 pitches Bumgarner threw, 79 were strikes. Pittsburgh, which ranked fourth in the league in runs, moved only three runners into scoring position against Bumgarner, who improved his postseason record to 4-2.

According to baseball-reference.com, Bumgarner threw only the 10th postseason shutout in Major League history with at least 10 strikeouts and no more than one walk issued.

"He's the guy you want out there," Bochy said amid the revelry of his players spraying each other with beer and champagne. "He's pitched so many big games for us, but it's hard to get bigger than this. It was a do-or-die situation, just like a seventh game."

Bumgarner displayed the form that enabled him to compile an 18-10 record this season. He struck out at least one batter in every inning except the seventh. Moreover, Bumgarner recorded four strikeouts only after catcher Buster Posey scooped up third strikes that broke sharply and skipped around his feet, requiring throws to first base.

"You get two strikes on somebody, you're not trying to paint something," Bumgarner said. "You just want to bounce it. The fact that we were getting ahead with the fastball early made it harder for them to lay off of it."

The Pirates didn't threaten Bumgarner until the eighth inning, by which time the Giants had finished all their scoring. Even then, Pittsburgh needed a pair of San Francisco errors to put runners on the corners with one out. An unfazed Bumgarner responded by striking out Jordy Mercer and retiring Andrew McCutchen on a fielder's-choice grounder.

"It was a different game that he pitched, a different game that we'd seen scouted," Bucs manager Clint Hurdle said. "He used all of his pitches. He was able to get his fastball in tight with the right-handers. He was able to spin the ball late. ... Used some changeups early after he'd show guys the fastball. He also knew how to elevate. I mean, he had it working tonight."

Pirates starter Edinson Volquez matched Bumgarner until the fourth inning, when the Giants loaded the bases with nobody out on singles by Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence and a walk to Brandon Belt. A pivotal event in that sequence was a close 2-2 pitch that Volquez threw to Belt, who took the borderline delivery for ball three.

Up came Crawford, who lofted Volquez's 1-2 delivery into the right-field stands. Crawford said he was striving to avoid striking out when the count reached two strikes.

"That would be the last thing you'd want to do in that situation," he said. "Fortunately he left a curveball a little more up than I think he wanted to."

Crawford's first postseason homer placed him in the pantheon of Giants who have hit memorable postseason grand slams, including Chuck Hiller, who hit the first World Series slam in NL history in 1962; Will Clark, who rocked the Cubs' Greg Maddux in the opener of the 1989 NL Championship Series; and Posey, whose big hit hastened San Francisco's triumph in the clincher of the 2012 NLDS at Cincinnati.

Belt drove in three runs with an RBI single in the sixth inning and a two-run single in the seventh. He and Crawford had plenty of help, as Joe Panik went 3-for-5 and Posey added two hits, including an eighth-inning RBI single.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Crawford sparks Giants with first playoff slam by shortstop

Blast off Pirates' Volquez breaks scoreless tie, backs Bumgarner's gem

Crawford sparks Giants with first playoff slam by shortstop

PITTSBURGH -- Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford broke open a scoreless game in grand fashion, becoming the first shortstop to hit a postseason grand slam as he crushed an Edinson Volquez pitch into the right-field seats in the fourth inning on Wednesday night at PNC Park in the National League Wild Card Game.

The slam, along with ace Madison Bumgarner's four-hit shutout, propelled the Giants to a resounding 8-0 victory, setting up an NL Division Series meeting with the Nationals.

More

"You know, it's obviously cool to do something like that," Crawford said when asked about being the first shortstop to hit a postseason slam, "but you can't hit a grand slam without the guys in front of you getting on base. So it's kind of a team thing in that sense and I'm just glad it helped us get a win. That's what matters, in the end."

  Date   Result Highlights
  Oct. 1   SF 8, PIT 0 video

Not only did Crawford's big fly get his name into the record books, but perhaps more importantly, it helped silence a raucous PNC Park crowd and put the Pirates in a hole from which they never recovered.

"Oh, it was huge," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "We're facing a guy that's been throwing the ball very well. You're just looking for a timely hit, and we couldn't have gotten a bigger one there. Crawford's been swinging the bat very well, so I was confident with him up there that he'd do something -- but I didn't know he would hit a grand slam."

Volquez, the Pirates' starter, had been locked in a duel with Bumgarner before running into trouble in the fourth. Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence started the inning with back-to-back singles before Brandon Belt worked his second walk of the night to load the bases.

"Those three guys ahead of me getting on with nobody out was huge and kind of set up that whole inning, set up that at-bat," Crawford said. "I felt pretty comfortable coming into that at-bat because of it. You get a little confidence when everyone in front of you gets on base."

That set the table for Crawford's first career postseason homer and third career slam. After falling behind in the count, Crawford jumped on a 1-2 breaking ball that just barely cleared the right-field fence.

"That one pitch changed the whole game," Volquez said, adding that he was actually trying to bounce the pitch and get Crawford to chase, but instead hung it over the middle of the plate.

Crawford's blast marked the first postseason slam by a Giant since Buster Posey hit one in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS. That, too, was a winner-take-all game, putting Crawford and Posey in a select group of players. Only three other players -- Johnny Damon (2004 American League Championship Series), Troy O'Leary (1999 ALDS) and Bill Skowron (1956 World Series) -- have teed off for grand slams in do-or-die ballgames.

That said, Crawford is no stranger to postseason grand slams. Long before becoming the first big league shortstop to hit one in the postseason, Crawford hit a crucial grand slam as a member of the Class A San Jose Giants in the 11th inning of Game 3 of the 2010 California League Championship Series.

That one came on a night when Angels superstar Mike Trout collected four hits, including two homers, for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. One other notable participant in that game was Crawford's teammate Michael Sandoval, the older brother of Pablo Sandoval, Crawford's current teammate.

Crawford hit a career-best 10 home runs this season, bringing his career total to 26 entering the postseason. It's No. 27, though, that will go down as one of the biggest hits of his young career.

"That's definitely the biggest one I've ever hit at any level," Crawford said. "It's tough to put it into words, but anytime you can help your team win a game and advance in the postseason, that's why you play the game. Nights like this are why we play the game."

Paul Casella is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Do Giants celebrate Wild Card win? Yes! Yes! Yes!

Do Giants celebrate Wild Card win? Yes! Yes! Yes!

PITTSBURGH -- The Giants kept the on-field celebration relatively tame following their 8-0 victory over the Pirates in Wednesday's National League Wild Card Game -- but that all changed once they were behind closed doors.

Giants ace Madison Bumgarner, moments after finishing off his shutout, found himself surrounded by teammates in the middle of the visiting clubhouse at PNC Park as the team began to pop the champagne bottles. All the while, music echoed throughout the clubhouse and down the tunnel along the first-base side.

More

The echoes stopped momentarily, only for the always colorful Hunter Pence to once again address his teammates.

  Date   Result Highlights
  Oct. 1   SF 8, PIT 0 video

"Great work tonight. Job well done," Pence said. "We're going to get to play a game at home in the playoffs. We have another big series coming up."

Pence then posed a simple question to his teammates: "Will we be at home this year again?"

It comes as no surprise that his teammates responded with the club's celebratory "Yes! Yes! Yes!" chant.

At that point, the music cranked back up and the next round of champagne sprays began, with Bumgarner again finding himself in the middle of it all. As a number of teammates toasted Bumgarner, then doused him with champagne and beer in the middle of the clubhouse, others were singing his praises during interviews at their lockers on the outer edges.

"When that ball went over the fence," veteran pitcher Tim Hudson said of Brandon Crawford's fourth-inning grand slam, "it almost seemed like game over right there. I don't usually say something like that, but if you give Bumgarner a 4-0 lead, go spray some champagne."

As it turns out, Hudson may have been on to something, as Bumgarner didn't even allow a Pirates runner to reach third base until the eighth inning. He escaped that jam then tossed a perfect ninth inning before his teammates swarmed him on the mound.

The on-field celebration wasn't nearly as raucous as Kansas City's from the night before when the Royals rallied from multiple deficits to win the American League Wild Card Game in walk-off fashion in the 12th inning. Instead, the Giants kept it to hugs and handshakes at the center of the diamond before leaving the field as a small group of San Francisco fans cheered just above the first-base dugout.

It didn't take long to flip the switch after retreating to the clubhouse, though the Giants know this is just a small step toward their main goal.

"We've got a long way to go still, and hopefully there will be a few more of these," Pence said. "But it definitely feels good to get this first one."

Paul Casella is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Given Game 1 nod, Peavy seeks first postseason win

Veteran hasn't enjoyed playoff success, but eager to deliver for Bochy, Giants

Given Game 1 nod, Peavy seeks first postseason win

PITTSBURGH -- It seems so right to Giants right-hander Jake Peavy: a big game on the horizon, and manager Bruce Bochy is trusting it to him.

Peavy, who joined the Giants in a July 26 trade with the Red Sox and has a deep history with Bochy from their days with the Padres, will start in Washington on Friday in Game 1 of the National League Division Series (noon PT, FS1).

More

"I'm going to do all I can for the big man, that's for sure," Peavy said.

  Date Time Matchup Network
Gm 1 Oct. 3 3 p.m. ET SF vs. WAS FS1
Gm 2 Oct. 4 5:30 p.m. ET SF vs. WAS FS1
Gm 3 Oct. 6 TBD WAS vs. SF FS1 or MLBN
Gm 4* Oct. 7 TBD WAS vs. SF FS1
Gm 5* Oct. 9 TBD SF vs. WAS FS1

Bochy hasn't made a formal announcement, but when asked about Peavy starting Game 1 and Tim Hudson beginning Game 2, he said, "You can bet on that."

When Peavy takes the mound, it'll be about making it right for himself as much as his manager or anyone else.

Peavy is 0-3 with a 9.27 ERA in five postseason starts. That doesn't include a 10-hit, six-run struggle in 6 1/3 innings against the Rockies in a 2007 tiebreaker game for the NL Wild Card spot, a no-decision in a Padres loss that counted as a 163rd regular-season game.

But Wednesday night, with champagne and beer flowing over the heads of everyone in the Giants' clubhouse after their 8-0 vanquishing of the Pirates in the NL Wild Card Game, it was all about smiles with Bochy -- as well as San Francisco third-base coach Tim Flannery, another comrade from their Padres days -- and memories and hopes.

Well, strike the hopes part. It's more belief and confidence than hope.

Peavy, 33, spent last season with the World Series champion Red Sox. He didn't shake his personal postseason ghosts, going 0-1 with one decent game and two starts in which he didn't exceed four innings. But when Peavy was traded from the White Sox to the Red Sox last July 30, he experienced what a championship team looked like from the inside.

This year, Peavy is thankful to be part of a team that, he says, has that same winning spirit.

"It's hard to put into words," Peavy said. "But we've got a bunch of guys who have been there before. They're not scared of any situation that we may be in. We've got veteran leadership and a great mix of young players who are very talented."

Peavy has been more than a passenger on a winning team since joining the Giants. He is 6-4 with a 2.17 ERA in eight starts, and San Francisco won the other two games. Peavy has 58 strikeouts against 17 walks and has limited opponents to a .231 batting average.

But Peavy heads into the NLDS opener understanding that he doesn't have to beat a potent Nationals club alone.

"We understand it's going to be a group effort, that our strength is in being a team, knowing we're going to have to get contributions from everybody up and down the lineup," Peavy said. "We're going to have to play smart. We have to have some timely hits, pitch well and play good defense.

"There are teams out there that people say are more talented and more complete. But we believe in ourselves as a group. You saw that tonight."

And, just maybe, Peavy can have the postseason that can place a shiny star on his All-Star career.

"It's funny how the game works," Peavy said. "You just keep plugging away, doing all you can do, fighting the good fight, and sometimes you end up in great situations. The good Lord just shines upon you.

"You end up like I did last year, in a great place with great teammates in Boston. I couldn't have asked for anything more then, and the same goes for now. To be over here with such a great group of guys, familiarity with 'Boch,' Flannery and so many guys. It's fun for me to be a part of, and I'm going to contribute in any way I can."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Dominant Bumgarner powers Giants past Pirates

|
Dominant Bumgarner powers Giants past Pirates

You may recall the 2013 NL Wild Card Game as the time when PNC Park's fans made their postseason presence known to Reds starter Johnny Cueto in a 6-2 Pirates victory. Pittsburgh entered Wednesday's 2014 edition hoping for a repeat. The Giants, who sat out last year's postseason, had eyes on a first step toward continuing their every-other-year World Series celebration streak.

The Bucs opted to use staff ace Gerrit Cole in a Game 162 matchup with the Reds, hoping a win in that contest might help them steal the NL Central title from the Cardinals. That didn't pan out, meaning Pittsburgh would send the unpredicable-but-usually-effective Edinson Volquez into battle against Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner -- a one-game duel with win-or-go-home stakes.

Continue Reading on Cut4

Three keys for Giants in NLDS against Nats

SF has history of clicking in October; won two of seven meetings this season

Three keys for Giants in NLDS against Nats

PITTSBURGH -- It seems a daunting task, the Giants -- winners of Wednesday night's National League Wild Card Game over the Pirates -- up against the NL's top-seeded Nationals in the Division Series round. The Nats took five of their seven meetings this year, including three of four at AT&T Park.

But some key numbers stack up in the favor of the Giants, who tend to play well this time of year.

More

Here are three keys that could lead the Giants to victory:

  Date Time Matchup Network
Gm 1 Oct. 3 3 p.m. ET SF vs. WAS FS1
Gm 2 Oct. 4 5:30 p.m. ET SF vs. WAS FS1
Gm 3 Oct. 6 TBD WAS vs. SF FS1 or MLBN
Gm 4* Oct. 7 TBD WAS vs. SF FS1
Gm 5* Oct. 9 TBD SF vs. WAS FS1

1. Hit for average, but add patience to the mix
Despite the record against the Nationals, the Giants batted .300 with five home runs in those seven games. But San Francisco also struck out 44 times and walked 10 times, finishing with a .324 on-base percentage.

The Giants will need performances like Brandon Belt's in the NL Wild Card Game. He went 2-for-3 with three RBIs, two walks and scored a run. With the count at 2-2 in his fourth-inning at-bat, Belt held off two Edinson Volquez pitches to draw a walk and load the bases, setting up Brandon Crawford's grand slam.

Speaking of Crawford, he entered the playoffs on the strength of a .365 performance (27-for-74) in September, with five doubles, two home runs and 16 RBIs. He finished the season with a .246 batting average overall, but he enters the NLDS as the first shortstop in history to hit a postseason grand slam. And Crawford batted .346 with a double, two triples and four RBIs against the Nats in the seven regular-season contests.

"They have a great team, a great lineup, a great pitching staff," Crawford said after San Francisco's 8-0 victory. "But we're confident going against anybody. We felt good tonight, although I don't think a whole lot of people gave us a great chance. We like situations like that, kind of an underdog."

2. Muzzle Nationals' offense somehow
With the Giants hitting .300 against the Nationals this year but only winning two of the seven games, that must've meant the Nats' offense was clicking.

Washington scored 41 runs, almost six a game, knocked six home runs and posted an .800 OPS (on-base plus slugging).

San Francisco's three projected starters offer hope.

Game 1 starter Jake Peavy joined the Giants in a July 26 trade from the Red Sox and went 6-4 with a 2.17 ERA in 12 starts.

Game 2 starter Tim Hudson struggled in September, but he can point to recent success against the Nationals. On June 12 at AT&T Park, he held the Nats to one run and six hits in seven innings of a 7-1 victory. Hudson struck out five against two walks.

And San Francisco will turn Game 3 over to lefty ace Madison Bumgarner, who turned in a four-hit, 10-strikeout shutout of Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

3. Get 'Panda' hot
Third baseman Pablo Sandoval looked tired at the end of the regular season, and the numbers reflected it. He hit .218 with 12 strikeouts and just one homer in 24 September games.

But Sandoval knows how to hit in October. He went 2-for-4 with a walk in the NL Wild Card Game to lift his career postseason batting average to .333 (29-for-87). Sandoval has six doubles, six home runs -- second most in Giants postseason history behind Barry Bonds' eight -- and 15 RBIs in 23 games. The resume also includes a World Series MVP Award in 2012.

Like many of the Giants, Sandoval knows how to play in October, which in recent years has been their biggest advantage against any postseason opponent.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Position-by-position breakdown for Giants-Nats

Position-by-position breakdown for Giants-Nats

The Giants took the first step toward a third World Series title in five years on Wednesday night, traveling to PNC Park and pummeling the Pirates, 8-0, in the National League Wild Card Game.

Their next challenge awaits in Washington, where the Nationals are going for their first championship in their second postseason appearance, after earning the NL's top seed by going 96-66. The teams will square off on Friday at Nationals Park in Game 1 of their NL Division Series at 3:07 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.

More

Under first-year manager Matt Williams, a former Giants star, the Nats took five of seven in their season series against San Francisco, including three of four at AT&T Park in June. Here's a look at how the clubs stack up, position by position.

CATCHER
Wilson Ramos suffered a fractured left hamate bone in the Nats' season opener, missed more than a month, then was slow to regain his power. He enjoyed his best season throwing out basestealers (38 percent), but a rough September dragged his overall batting line down to .267/.299/.399. The Giants' Buster Posey had no such issues, crushing the ball in the second half (.354/.403/.575). The former NL MVP Award winner racked up a 5.7 WAR, per FanGraphs.com, second among Major League catchers. Advantage: Giants

FIRST BASE
Brandon Belt gave the Giants a boost when he came off his third disabled-list stint of the season in mid-September, and he enters this series 10 for his last 24, with three extra-base hits and five walks, including the NL Wild Card Game. Adam LaRoche has been at the top of his game as well, with seven home runs, 22 RBIs and a .539 slugging percentage in September. He also put together a nice bounce-back year overall for the Nats, hitting .259/.362/.455 with 26 homers. Plus, Washington has the option of using Ryan Zimmerman, recently back from a hamstring injury, at first against a tough lefty like Madison Bumgarner. Advantage: Nationals

SECOND BASE
Both teams feature midseason replacements here. The Giants turned to 23-year-old rookie Joe Panik in late June and saw him hit .305, though the left-handed batter actually did most of his damage against lefties (.373). The Nationals, needing to fill a hole in the infield with Zimmerman injured, acquired veteran Asdrubal Cabrera from the Indians at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Cabrera, a switch-hitter moving over from shortstop, hit almost evenly from both sides of the plate this year (.696 OPS vs. RHP, .689 vs. LHP). He offers experience and more pop, while Panik is the better hitter for average and better defender. Advantage: Giants

THIRD BASE
San Francisco's Pablo Sandoval has two All-Star Game appearances, two World Series championships, the famous nickname and the strong track record over seven Major League seasons. Washington's Anthony Rendon has none of that, but he quietly became one of the best players in baseball this season, finishing fourth among position players with a 6.6 WAR as he shifted to third in place of Zimmerman. Rendon did it all for the Nats, getting on base (.351 OBP), hitting for power (66 extra-base hits, .473 SLG) and running the bases (17-for-20 in steal attempts), while playing two positions (third and second) and grading out well in every advanced defensive metric. Advantage: Nationals

SHORTSTOP
There's a lot more to the Giants' Brandon Crawford than his .246/.324/.389 overall line, as his bat came to life in September (.365/.388/.541) -- not to mention Wednesday's huge grand slam in the NL Wild Card Game -- and his defense shines. But the Nats' Ian Desmond also has been solid defensively, and he possesses a blend of power and speed that's rare for the position. His 24 homers and 24 stolen bases this year made him only the fourth shortstop in history to post three 20-20 seasons. Desmond led all big league shortstops in homers and RBIs (91) and finished third in WAR (4.1). Advantage: Nationals

LEFT FIELD
Injuries to Michael Morse and Angel Pagan have forced the Giants to scramble a bit in their outfield, especially in left. Travis Ishikawa, normally a first baseman, has started four of the team's last five games there, though Morse (left oblique) could be healthy enough to make the NLDS roster. Washington has no such issues. Bryce Harper missed time early this year with a thumb injury but came back to hit .288/.359/.454 with 11 home runs in the second half. Advantage: Nationals

CENTER FIELD
Gregor Blanco got off to a slow start but gave the Giants a huge lift down the stretch when injuries ravaged the outfield. He hit .296/.365/.449 in the second half and recently settled into the leadoff spot. Denard Span held down that job all year for the Nats, setting a club record for hits (184) and personal bests in doubles (39) and steals (31) while playing his usual stellar defense. A catalyst for the Washington offense, Span also turned it up after the All-Star break, batting .346/.403/.459. Advantage: Nationals

RIGHT FIELD
This series features a matchup of two of the game's more productive right fielders, especially with the bat. Jayson Werth was a steady force in the middle of Washington's lineup, hitting .292/.394/.455, while Hunter Pence did the same for San Francisco, at .277/.332/.445. They finished sixth and seventh, respectively, among big league right fielders in WAR. What gives Werth the edge is his OBP and torrid second half (.922 OPS), while Pence finished 4-for-54 before going 1-for-4 with a walk on Wednesday. Advantage: Nationals

BENCH
Neither of these teams received much production from its pinch-hitters this season, and the Nats actually ranked last in the NL in average (.144), slugging (.234) and OPS (.478) in that category. But while late-season injuries further diminished Bruce Bochy's options, Williams could have a trump card. If Zimmerman doesn't start, he's an overqualified pinch-hitter. And if he does, it pushes Cabrera, Harper or LaRoche into that role. Rookie Matt Duffy, 6-for-15 with six RBIs as a pinch-hitter, could be key for San Francisco. Advantage: Nationals

STARTING ROTATION
Nats starters led the Majors in ERA (3.04), FIP (3.24), WHIP (1.14) and opponents' OPS (.657), while finishing a close second in strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.1). Their regular rotation posted a 1.95 ERA in 24 September outings, and in their final turn, the four likely members of the postseason staff combined for 31 scoreless innings, capped by Jordan Zimmermann's no-hitter on Sunday. The Giants have the added disadvantage of burning Bumgarner in the NL Wild Card Game, making their ace unavailable until Game 3 of the NLDS. Advantage: Nationals

BULLPEN
These clubs finished almost dead even in relief ERA, with Washington second in the Majors (3.00) and San Francisco third (3.01). The Giants struggled more down the stretch, but they still boast a solid group that includes former closer Sergio Romo (2.10 ERA, .183 opponents' average since July 1), battle-tested lefties Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez and rookie flamethrower Hunter Strickland (7 IP, 0 R, 9 K). The Nats, however, truly rounded into form late in the year after acquiring veteran lefty Matt Thornton (11 1/3 IP, 0 R) to complement steady setup man Tyler Clippard. As a bonus, Williams likely will have the luxury of bolstering that group with fifth starter Tanner Roark (2.85 ERA), who excelled in a relief role last year. Advantage: Nationals

CLOSER
Both Santiago Casilla and Drew Storen got a shot to take over the closer's role, and both took full advantage. Storen, who blew the save in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS against the Cardinals, reclaimed the job from Rafael Soriano in early September and didn't let go, converting all 10 chances without allowing a run. He sports a 1.19 ERA since returning from the Minors in August 2013. Casilla replaced Romo at the end of June, locking down 17 of 18 opportunities while posting a 2.42 ERA and holding batters to a .165 average. He also didn't allow a hit or a walk over his final six innings of the regular season. Advantage: Push

Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Giants fans come from near and far for rally

Supporters gather at AT&T Park to watch NL Wild Card Game

Giants fans come from near and far for rally

SAN FRANCISCO -- Wearing a home Giants jersey and a black Giants cap, John Castillo was dressed like many of the other several hundred Giants fans at AT&T Park who watched Wednesday night's National League Wild Card Game as it was broadcast from PNC Park in Pittsburgh. He just needed a little more time to get to the park.

Castillo, 34, drove north to the Bay Area from his Los Angeles home to attend a pregame rally hosted by the Giants at AT&T Park and then stayed to watch the game on the park's videoboard.

More

  Date   Result Highlights
  Oct. 1   SF 8, PIT 0 video

"I came up just to be here," Castillo said. "Win or lose, there was no way I could miss this."

Despite being born and raised in Los Angeles, Castillo became a Giants fan in 1989, and his loyalty to the team has remained since.

A short walk down the concourse, a pair of friends born well after the 1989 season ate hot dogs. Andrew Acevedo and Matt Genardini, both 15, came to the park after their school day ended in Redwood City.

"I'm one of the only ones at school who wears a lot of Giants stuff," Genardini said of his classmates. "I'm definitely the biggest Giants fan in my family."

Acevedo is a Yankees fan but watched the clinching game of the 2012 World Series at City Hall in San Francisco and came to support his friend's Giants on Wednesday.

Shortly before first pitch, Lou Seal, the Giants' mascot, and Renel Brooks-Moon, the ballpark's public-address announcer, made an appearance on the field. After a video showcasing the team's regular-season highlights played on the videoboard, Brooks-Moon led the crowd in the team's famed "Yes, yes, yes" home run celebration.

The loudest cheers came after the crowd was asked if it would like to see another home game inside of the ballpark this season.

Ryan Hood is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryanhood19. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Did You Know? 2014 NL Wild Card Game

Did You Know? 2014 NL Wild Card Game

The Giants beat the Pirates, 8-0, in Wednesday night's National League Wild Card Game at PNC Park, advancing to the NL Division Series against the Nationals. San Francisco starter Madison Bumgarner was masterful in tossing a shutout on 109 pitches, while Brandon Crawford hit a fourth-inning grand slam that proved to be more than enough support.

Here's what you should know:

More

• Dating to Game 2 of the 2012 World Series, Bumgarner has tossed 16 consecutive scoreless innings in the postseason. Dating to a relief appearance in Game 6 of the 2010 NL Championship Series, Bumgarner has tossed 19 consecutive scoreless frames in postseason road games.

  Date   Result Highlights
  Oct. 1   SF 8, PIT 0 video

• Bumgarner is the first Giants starter to toss a postseason shutout since Tim Lincecum did so in Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS against Atlanta.

• Bumgarner's game score, a statistic developed by statistician Bill James to quantify individual pitching performances, was 88, the highest for a postseason starter since Justin Verlander scored 89 in Game 5 of the 2012 AL Division Series against the A's (also a shutout).

• Prior to Crawford's fourth-inning grand slam, he had two career grand slams -- including one as his first career hit on May 27, 2011, in Milwaukee (Major League debut). He is the first shortstop to hit a slam in MLB postseason history.

• The Giants have won a franchise record eight straight postseason games dating to Game 5 of the 2012 NLCS against St. Louis.

• San Francisco has also won seven consecutive postseason elimination games (coming back from a 2-0 series deficit in the 2012 NLDS and a 3-1 deficit in the 2012 NLCS before sweeping the Tigers in that year's World Series), tying the Royals -- who won the AL Wild Card Game over the A's on Tuesday -- for the longest streak in playoff history.

Kansas City trailed the Blue Jays, 3-1, in the 1985 ALCS and the Cardinals, 3-1, in that year's World Series and won both.

• Prior to Wednesday's Wild Card Game, Pirates starter Edinson Volquez had not allowed five earned runs in an outing since surrendering five on July 21 against the Dodgers at PNC Park.

Manny Randhawa is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Morse could be available for Division Series

Slugger's oblique injury improved, but not enough for Wild Card Game

Morse could be available for Division Series

PITTSBURGH -- Michael Morse's lingering oblique injury may have kept him out of Wednesday's National League Wild Card Game, but manager Bruce Bochy is confident Morse will return at some point this postseason, if the Giants advance deeper into October.

Sidelined since Aug. 31 with a left oblique injury, Morse took full swings ahead of the team's workout Tuesday for the first time since his attempted comeback Sept. 19. Morse lasted just two innings in that contest before departing with increasing soreness, but he seemingly came through Tuesday's session without any setbacks.

More

  Date   Result Highlights
  Oct. 1   SF 8, PIT 0 video
"Well, I think, if this thing goes on, he will be activated at some point," Bochy said prior to the winner-take-all game against the Pirates. "He's just not ready today. Believe me, I wish he was. It would be nice to have him coming off the bench, but he's not quite ready."

On his way to the cages Tuesday, Morse said he was hopeful that he'd be able to contribute on the field Wednesday night, but that he would be prepared to support the team either way.

"If I'm not [playing]," Morse said, "I'll still be ready to do my job and that'll be to cheer these guys on."

Travis Ishikawa, who began the season in a first-base platoon as a member of the Pirates, was slated to start in Morse's place in left field Wednesday night. Ishikawa has made just three career starts -- and eight appearances overall -- in left field, all of which came down the stretch this season.

If the Giants do advance with a victory Wednesday, they would have until Friday morning to decide whether to include Morse on their potential NL Division Series roster against the Nationals.

Paul Casella is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Giants take no chances, go with 10-man pitching staff

San Francisco prepared for extra innings in NL Wild Card Game vs. Pirates

Giants take no chances, go with 10-man pitching staff

PITTSBURGH -- The Giants sought apparent flexibility in establishing their 25-man roster for Wednesday night's National League Wild Card Game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

In case the game extends deep into extra innings, the 10-man pitching staff includes right-handers Jake Peavy and Yusmeiro Petit, members of the starting rotation who are conditioned to throw multiple innings. Petit, who has pitched mostly in relief, also would be comfortable in that role. Tim Lincecum, sent to the bullpen in late August, is another reliever whose starting experience would enable him to fill a long-relief role. The remaining pitchers on the roster: Madison Bumgarner, Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, Jean Machi, Sergio Romo and Hunter Strickland.

More

  Date   Result Highlights
  Oct. 1   SF 8, PIT 0 video

Guillermo Quiroz was included as a third catcher behind starter Buster Posey, enabling the Giants to use rookie backup Andrew Susac as a pinch-hitter if necessary.

A mild surprise among the seven infielders was first baseman Adam Duvall, who belted a pinch-hit home run Sunday. Duvall's power and ability to play the infield corners helped him earn inclusion on the roster.

Keeping outfielders Gary Brown and Juan Perez on the roster will give Giants manager Bruce Bochy added flexibility if he needs to use a pinch-runner.

The rest of the Giants' NL Wild Card Game roster: Joaquin Arias, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Matt Duffy, Joe Panik, Pablo Sandoval, Gregor Blanco, Travis Ishikawa and Hunter Pence.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Experienced Posey unfazed by postseason pressure

Giants star looking forward to challenge of intense, winner-take-all Wild Card Game

Experienced Posey unfazed by postseason pressure

PITTSBURGH -- When the stakes and pressure rise, athletes frequently remind themselves that they're playing the same carefree game they did as youths. For Giants catcher Buster Posey and a couple of his Pittsburgh Pirates opponents, Wednesday night's National League Wild Card Game at PNC Park (5 p.m. PT on ESPN) truly will recall bygone days.

Bygone days, maybe, but not simpler ones. This showdown's intensity, which is essentially a Game 7 that will advance the winner to the NL Division Series against Washington and send the loser to the offseason, promises to be extreme.

More

For emphasis, this NL Wild Card Game will pit the last two NL Most Valuable Player Award winners against each other -- Posey, the award's winner in 2012, and McCutchen, the '13 recipient. That hasn't happened since 1992, when Pittsburgh's Barry Bonds (1990) and Atlanta's Terry Pendleton ('91) collided in the NL Championship Series.

Precedents also are scarce for something else Posey and McCutchen are experiencing, as well as Pirates first baseman Ike Davis. They joined forces on a U.S. junior national team that participated in an international tournament in Taiwan in the autumn of 2004. Posey said Tuesday that Atlanta outfielder Justin Upton also was on the U.S. team -- which didn't win the tourney.

  Date   Result Highlights
  Oct. 1   SF 8, PIT 0 video

"It's definitely kind of fun to look back on," said Posey, who revealed that he performed in that event as a starting pitcher, not a catcher.

Posey also would welcome revisiting 2010 and '12, when the Giants made their previous two postseason appearances and won the World Series.

"As a competitor, you look forward to this type of challenge," Posey said, displaying relish for the Wild Card Game's win-or-else format. "This is a different scenario than we've ever been in."

Posey signaled during last Sunday's regular-season finale that he's primed for October. After resting a stiff back Friday and Saturday, he returned to the lineup and homered off San Diego's Robbie Erlin on the first pitch he saw.

"It's good to see Buster taking swings like that," San Francisco left fielder/first baseman Travis Ishikawa said. "It's only going to help us."

"It's a great way to get a good feel going into the playoffs," Giants right fielder Hunter Pence said.

Posey hit .393 in September to finish the season with a .311 batting average, fourth in the league. He also ranked among the league leaders in RBIs (89) and slugging percentage (.490). Posey hit .354 with 12 homers and 43 RBIs after this year's All-Star break, compared with .244, two homers and 16 RBIs in last season's second half.

It would be nothing new for Posey to sustain his productive hitting through the next few weeks, if San Francisco survives that far. He hit .375 (6-for-16) in his first postseason experience, the 2010 NLDS against Atlanta. Posey became the second rookie catcher to amass four hits in a postseason contest in Game 4 of that year's NLCS against Philadelphia, and he hit safely in all five games of the World Series against Texas.

Posey's grand slam off Cincinnati's Mat Latos in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS remains a favorite moment among Giants fans. Later that postseason, he delivered a key two-run homer in San Francisco's World Series-clinching Game 4 victory at Detroit.

Pittsburgh catcher Russell Martin acknowledged Posey's potentionally formidable presence, but he didn't sound intimidated.

"He's just like anybody else. Even the best hitters get out seven out of 10 times," Martin said. "Hopefully some of those seven times will be tomorrow."

When Wednesday arrives, Posey will retain his calm nature.

"I think there are going to be nerves for everybody," he said. "But from my experience, once you get to the clubhouse, start your routine and step on the field, everything gets back to normal."

Exactly as if he were playing a kids' game.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Raucous PNC Park crowd won't bother Bumgarner

Starting NL Wild Card Game, Giants' ace has been dominant on the road

Raucous PNC Park crowd won't bother Bumgarner

PITTSBURGH -- The constellations and the pitching schedule aligned perfectly, allowing Giants ace left-hander Madison Bumgarner -- with his 11-4 record and 2.22 ERA in 18 road starts this season -- to start Wednesday's National League Wild Card Game (5 p.m. PT, ESPN) against the Pirates at PNC Park.

But the truth is, any big game anywhere is Bumgarner time. As a 20-year-old in 2010, he made four postseason appearances and won all three of his starts -- including a scoreless eight innings against the Rangers in Game 4 of the World Series. Bumgarner is 3-2 with a 3.79 ERA in seven postseason games, including six starts. His most recent start being a scoreless seven-inning, eight-strikeout domination of the Tigers in Game 2 of the 2012 World Series.

More

Bumgarner, 25, admits feeling the pregame nerves that could go along with a game like Wednesday's, which will send the winner into the NL Division Series against the Nationals and the loser home. He just deals with them expertly.

  Date   Result Highlights
  Oct. 1   SF 8, PIT 0 video

"There's always a little anxiety, I'll say, to get here and get started," said Bumgarner, who said he can't explain his home numbers, but felt his home and road performances evened out as the season progressed. "But at least me, anyway, I work so hard to push all that stuff aside to treat it like any other game, and just worry about pitching and making pitches."

The push to qualify for the postseason was grueling for the Giants, who went into their final regular-season series with a chance to host the NL Wild Card Game. Two days off no doubt helped replenish the batteries, but the biggest pick-me-up is the ability to hand the ball to Bumgarner, who finished 18-10 with a 2.98 ERA and finished fourth in the NL with 219 strikeouts.

"He has that mentality of a front-line starter," said San Francisco right-hander Tim Hudson, who lockered beside Bumgarner and has become a close friend. "He believes he's the best out there, and that's the type of guy you want on the mound."

Bumgarner will have to deal with a raucous crowd at PNC Park.

Last year, when the Pirates faced the Reds in the NL Wild Card Game, the crowd made its presence felt in the second inning. Fans went into a deafening sing-song of the last name of Cincinnati pitcher Johnny Cueto. With the stadium shaking, Cueto set up for a pitch against Pittsburgh catcher Russell Martin, but dropped the ball on the mound. It was almost as if the stadium turned Cueto's fingers buttery. Martin swatted the next pitch for a home run, and the Bucs cruised to a 6-2 victory.

Most likely, Cueto's drop was coincidence. Regardless, the noise is stuff of legend, and the fans will try to add to it with Bumgarner on the mound. But he pitches the way he talks -- unhurried while making his point clear.

"That just makes it fun," Bumgarner said. "Whether you're at home and they're cheering for you or you're on the road and everybody's against you. It's not like football, where you can't hear the plays being called out.

"I expect it to be electric. I'll be prepared for it."

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle may welcome the noise, but realizes it'll take more than crowd noise to beat Bumgarner.

"He's a pro, he's a no-nonsense guy, it seems to me," Hurdle said. "On the mound, he knows his strengths, he pitches to them, doesn't rattle easily. He's a great competitor. He's one of those guys you expect to see in the playoffs."

Interestingly, the Giants' confidence in Bumgarner is in part because of a couple of starts during which many pitchers could have become unhinged.

On Aug. 21, Bumgarner gave up two first-inning homers and fell behind the Cubs, 3-1, at Wrigley Field. But Bumgarner pitched through the seventh without another run scoring, struck out 12 and pocketed a 5-3 victory. On Sept. 23 at Dodger Stadium, he again gave up two first-inning homers and three first-inning runs, but held the NL West champion Dodgers to just one additional run while pitching 7 1/3. San Francisco lost that one, but left knowing that Bumgarner can reverse a negative spin.

"He doesn't let a first inning affect him and he keeps us in the ballgame," said left-handed reliever Jeremy Affeldt. "If we're not winning, we feel we have a chance to win, because he keeps it close."

In the Wild Card Game, with a one-day roster, manager Bruce Bochy is considering carrying two starters. Bochy is protecting himself from a lengthy game. He's certainly not hedging his Bumgarner bet.

"I'll call him a kid still ... he's accomplished quite a bit -- a couple All-Star Games and pitched well into the postseason," Bochy said. "The makeup goes with the talent."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Giants relying on power, balance combination

Giants relying on power, balance combination

PITTSBURGH -- Ideally, the Giants' lineup for Wednesday's National League Wild Card Game (5 p.m. PT on ESPN) against the Pirates would feature center fielder Angel Pagan leading off and left fielder Michael Morse batting somewhere in the middle of the order.

But Pagan's back surgery has sidelined him, while Morse can't shake the effects of an injured left oblique. So if the Giants are to prolong their bid to win another World Series in another even-numbered year, they'll have to survive with a lineup that includes Gregor Blanco and Travis Ishikawa, both of whom have been regarded as platoon players for most of their careers.

More

  Date   Result Highlights
  Oct. 1   SF 8, PIT 0 video

This doesn't faze the Giants, who displayed a knack for two-out scoring through much of the season, due to their somewhat revived power -- their 132 homers represented their highest total since 2010's total of 162 -- and improved balance in the lineup.

Manager Bruce Bochy didn't officially announce Wednesday's lineup, but it'll likely resemble this:

1. Blanco, CF
2. Joe Panik, 2B
3. Buster Posey, C
4. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
5. Hunter Pence, RF
6. Brandon Belt, 1B
7. Brandon Crawford, SS
8. Ishikawa, LF
9. Madison Bumgarner, P

Blanco's batting only .213 (30-for-141) from the leadoff spot. Some might think that Pence (.267, 35-for-131) might be a better choice for the top of the order, but that would leave a void in the middle. Panik, the rookie who performs with a 10-year veteran's poise, looked more and more like a prototypical No. 2 hitter as the season progressed, capable of executing the hit-and-run and making consistent contact.

Sandoval finished the season as a cleanup hitter in name only. He collected just two extra-base hits in his last 20 games. Pence ended the season in a 1-for-28 funk. If neither of these guys hits proficiently against the Pirates, the Giants could be in for a rough night.

Belt might hit a couple of home runs or strike out a couple of times. Having appeared in only 61 games while sidelined mostly by concussion symptoms, he's still trying to regain consistency. Crawford hit a robust .365 in September, finished with a career-high 10 homers and finished third among NL shortstops with 69 RBIs.

Bumgarner is virtually as effective as a designated hitter. A near lock to win the NL Silver Slugger Award as the best hitter at his position, he batted .258 with four home runs and 15 RBIs this season.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Giants, Bucs traveled similar paths to Wild Card Game

Giants, Bucs traveled similar paths to Wild Card Game

PITTSBURGH -- The Giants and Pirates traveled similar roads to get here. That's not important now. Right, Hunter Pence?

"That's the beauty of it," San Francisco's right fielder said.

More

Well, that's one way of looking at it. To work for eight months, to endure injuries and slumps and all the rest, and then to lay it all on the line for one game seems, well, cruel.

"Seriously, it's a beautiful thing," Pence said. "We're right where we're supposed to be."

  Date   Result Highlights
  Oct. 1   SF 8, PIT 0 video

Indeed, that may be the beauty of thing. The Giants and Pirates are in the postseason, and they're both good enough to win the World Series. First, though, there's this little matter of playing the National League Wild Card Game at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday (ESPN). Both managers will tell you that their clubs revealed plenty of good things about themselves along the way. Both are resilient and determined. Both are confident, too. Both believe they're capable of writing whatever ending they want to write.

If you took a snapshot of the Giants and Pirates at certain points of the season, you might have caught a team that looked like the best in baseball. At certain other points, both teams looked like clubs going nowhere. Both were hit hard by injuries. Both had stretches when they didn't play well.

"We had to dig this one out of the dirt," Bucs manager Clint Hurdle said.

He's referring to the fact that his team was 18-26 on May 2 and didn't clear .500 for good until June 26.

"We never felt sorry for ourselves," Pittsburgh third baseman Josh Harrison said. "When we were eight [games] under, we didn't even know we were eight under. I know people probably panicked, but nobody in here panicked. We feed off each other and believe in each other."

The Pirates evolved during the season. Injuries allowed Hurdle to start writing Harrison's name in the lineup more often. Harrison started the season as a reserve, but he ended up starting 21 games in left, 23 in right, 13 at second, four at short and 55 at third.

And a star was born. Harrison batted .315 and made the NL All-Star team.

Three-fifths of Pittsburgh's starting rotation got hurt as well, but even that has been a blessing in disguise.

The Pirates begin the postseason with no starter having thrown 200 innings and with only Wednesday starter Edinson Volquez having made 30 starts. As former Bucs manager Jim Leyland often said, "It's not the team with the best pitching in October. It's the team with the healthiest pitching."

The Pirates are healthy, and they're rolling. They finished on a 17-6 kick, with every part of the team clicking.

"We had to be steadfast, stubborn," Hurdle said. "We had to trust our guys and trust each other to continue to play. We believe we had enough talent to fight our way into this."

Andrew McCutchen (.378), Harrison (.330) and Starling Marte (.366) all had great finishes during the closing stretch.

And that fresh rotation? Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano and Volquez were 10-0 with a 1.88 ERA during the 17-6 finish.

Having endured the tough years, McCutchen said a slow start was no big deal.

"I always say -- I somewhat make a joke of it -- but we know how it feels to lose," McCutchen said. "When we're down, it's not really a big deal for us. We lost for a very long time. We know what we're capable of doing."

The Giants were 43-21 on June 8 and leading the NL West by 10 games. They were hitting home runs like crazy and looking pretty much unstoppable.

Only San Francisco did stop, losing 18 of its next 23. The Giants stopped scoring runs. They were hit hard by injuries, especially to center fielder Angel Pagan and first baseman Brandon Belt. They would lose right-hander Matt Cain as well. Only Belt is available for the postseason.

And then just when it looked like the Giants would disappear from the radar, they rallied nicely and got within two games of the Dodgers in the NL West on Sept. 17.

San Francisco faded some down the stretch, but here it is back in the postseason for the third time in five years. The Giants have a large group of players that won the World Series in 2010 and '12, so there's a confidence about what's ahead.

"I think it's been a good year," San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said. "Challenging? No question. With our injuries, our play, it's been a tale of two teams."

Regardless of which of those teams shows up Wednesday night, these Giants are special to their manager.

"The one constant, which I love about these guys, they're fighters," Bochy said. "They don't get down. They keep pushing. They focus for it as well as any group I've had. That's what it took to get here.

"If you look at certain points of the season, we very easily could have just collapsed. But they found a way to get back on track, and I compliment them. I'm just glad they're here and getting a chance."

The Pirates feel exactly the same way.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Giants to carry extra pitchers with Morse doubtful for WC Game

Giants to carry extra pitchers with Morse doubtful for WC Game

PITTSBURGH -- With manager Bruce Bochy calling outfielder Michael Morse "doubtful" for Wednesday's National League Wild Card Game, the main question regarding the Giants' roster for the do-or-die contest now seems to be just how many pitchers the team will carry -- and who exactly they will be.

Morse's potential absence from the 25-man roster makes Bochy's position-player decisions rather clear-cut. That said, he is still on the fence about whether he wants to carry 10 or 11 pitchers for Wednesday's tilt with the Pirates. For reference, Bucs skipper Clint Hurdle said he plans to have nine pitchers at his disposal for the win-or-go-home game.

More

"We just finished talking about it, and we'll finish these discussions once this workout is over," Bochy said Tuesday night before the Giants hit the field at PNC Park for a brief team workout. "Where we're at right now is whether we'll go with 10, maybe 11 pitchers."

Along with starter Madison Bumgarner, there seem to be six relievers -- Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, Jean Machi, Hunter Strickland and Santiago Casilla -- locked into roster spots.

That leaves either three or four pitching spots, depending on which direction the Giants ultimately decide to go. Veteran Tim Lincecum is likely to land one of the spots, while Bochy said that he'd like to have at least two of the team's other four starters available. He then immediately commended Yusmeiro Petit on his ability to pitch in a long-relief role, if necessary -- a hint that he could land one of the spots.

That leaves Jake Peavy, Ryan Vogelsong or Tim Hudson for the final spot, making relievers Juan Gutierrez and George Kontos the odd men out. Gutierrez, however, could sneak onto the roster if San Francisco indeed elects to go with 11 pitchers and bring no more than three regular starters.

"We're weighing what's more important to have. Is it an extra pitcher in case this game goes extra innings or something? And that extra pitcher also allows you to pull a pitcher earlier if you want to or get the matchups that you want," Bochy said. "You have to look at the player who would replace that pitcher and what his value would be."

Had Morse been healthy, that decision may have been a bit tougher. As it stands now, however, the Giants have 14 rather obvious choices for 14 position player spots, even if they do bring 11 pitchers.

San Francisco's starting lineup will consist of Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford, Pablo Sandoval, Hunter Pence, Gregor Blanco and Travis Ishikawa. In addition to those eight, two bench spots will be occupied by Andrew Susac and Joaquin Arias.

That leaves four remaining spots, which could be filled by Matt Duffy, Juan Perez, Gary Brown and Adam Duvall.

"I can't really put it into words what it would mean, because I've never really been in this position," said Duffy, who went 6-for-15 as a pinch-hitter in his limited opportunities down the stretch. "Whatever they feel is best for the team, I'm happy with, but it would be an honor. I'll be ready either way."

Duffy would be a more logical choice to pinch-hit in a hit-for-contact situation, while Duvall could bring a power bat off the bench. Three of Duvall's 14 hits in his limited opportunities this summer were home runs, including a pinch-hit shot in Sunday's regular-season finale.

"It would be awesome to get out there [Wednesday], but either way, I'm excited to be here and just be a part of this team," Duvall said. "I can't control whether I'm on or off the roster -- that's their decision. Either way, though, I'm happy just to be here, and I'm ready to help any way I can."

The only other options position player-wise are carrying a third catcher in Guillermo Quiroz, opening up the opportunity for Susac to pinch-hit, or putting Ehire Adrianza on the roster in what would be a rather shocking move.

Albeit a superb defender, Adrianza hasn't seen any game action since suffering a right hamstring injury on July 24. Yet that didn't stop the Giants from having Adrianza meet the team in Pittsburgh ahead of Wednesday's game. It's unclear if San Francisco just wants to gauge Adrianza's status for potential future rounds or if he's actually being considered for one of the 25 roster spots for the Wild Card Game.

Either way, Bochy said the team plans to finalize its decisions sometime Tuesday night, though the club won't announce its final roster until Wednesday morning.

"We're still on the fence on a couple players right now and which way we're going to go, but we should have this done at some point [Tuesday night]," Bochy said. "A lot of variables come into play when you're setting up your roster, and we're just making sure we work through all of those right now."

Paul Casella is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

October Confidential: Opposing players dish on how to beat the Bucs

Rival players offer inside look at facing the NL Wild Card winners

October Confidential: Opposing players dish on how to beat the Bucs

How do you beat the Pirates? MLB.com asked rival players from around Major League baseball to offer an inside look at how best to face the NL Wild Card winners.

Gerrit Cole
"For a young guy, he's been doing a great job. He's a big, strong kid. He's got good stuff, a good fastball, curveball and slider. I know for me, he's a tough guy when you face him for the first time because his ball moves so much. After a while, you can see what he's trying to do, but his stuff is still so good."
-- NL West hitter

More

Francisco Liriano
"Liriano, you have to bring him up. He loves his slider. Whenever you swing at his slider, it's tough to hit because he bounces it out of the zone. When you bring him up and over the plate, you have a chance to have a better at-bat against him and hit him. Whenever he goes to the slider down and in and makes you chase, there are a lot of swings and misses."
-- NL Central infielder

  Date   Result Highlights
  Oct. 1   SF 8, PIT 0 video

Mark Melancon
"He throws an above average fastball, a really good cutter and he's got a big curveball. He really never pitches you the same twice. The first time you face him, he'll just pound you with cutters. The next time, he'll throw all two-seamers away. He's starting to backdoor his cutter and he's starting to pitch, you know? He's got good stuff. The ball moves a ton. He locates well. Even when he misses, he's around the zone with all his pitches. He can work. He'll start with something off and he'll just kind of keep working out and see how much the ump will give him."
-- NL Central infielder

Andrew McCutchen
"I think you have to be able to establish inside and get him off the outside part of the plate. He's really good on the inside corner too though. He's just a really good, premier hitter. You have to get him out on good pitches. He's going to hit your mistakes. You just have to execute a pitch. A good located pitch will get you a good result, statistically, a lot of times. He's so good on the outside of the plate. You have to be able to command the inside of the plate and get him looking at both sides. If they can eliminate a spot on you, it makes it easier for him."
-- NL Central pitcher

Josh Harrison
"The thing opponents have to worry about most is his confidence level. He's got a great deal of confidence going into the postseason. This is a guy that does all the little things to help a team win. He plays really solid defense, is a good base runner and can hit really well. He can drive the ball to all fields and can hurt you in a lot of different ways. More than anything else, it's containing a guy that can put the fat part of the bat on the ball on a regular basis. I expect him to have a really nice playoff run. They leaned on him heavily this year and I think he will do well in the playoffs.

October Confidential
Team-by-team coverage
Angels | A's | Orioles | Royals | Tigers
Cards | Dodgers | Giants | Nationals | Pirates

"If Clint wants him to hit-and-run, he can hit-and-run. He's got the capability of driving the ball out of the park -- not only to the pull side but the opposite side as well. That's what makes him a good hitter. He doesn't have to pull the ball to have success. He can hurt you the other way as well. That's what makes him more dangerous than anything else. You do your best not to make his at-bats big. If you can keep guys off in front of him, then you'll have much greater success."
-- NL Central coach

"This was a guy not very many people were talking about a year ago. Now, in my opinion, he's become one of the best leadoff hitters in all of baseball. He's a good fastball hitter but a very good disciplined hitter, too. I think you need to attack him with strikes because you don't want him on base. He can do some damage on the bases."
-- NL West pitcher

Russell Martin
"He's been around for a long time. I saw him a lot in the Minor Leagues. If I'm pitching to him, I'm pitching to my strengths and not worrying about trying to attach his weaknesses. He's such a professional hitter and he's smart enough where he's able to make an adjustment so easily. Defensively, he's a good quarterback. He's been around. He calls a good game, can throw a guy out and has a book on a lot of guys. Not a lot of guys have that. It takes time."
-- NL West pitcher

Neil Walker
"Neil really had a great year this year. Traditionally he's better left-handed than right-handed. He's done a good job. He's kind of simplified to a certain extent his approach. Jeff Branson has done a great job with him this year and so has Jeff Livesey, the assistant hitting coach there. What he's done has been solid in the middle of the order. He handles whatever position he's thrust into -- two, three, four, five or six -- it doesn't matter. He's done a really nice job with it."
-- NL Central coach

"He handles mistakes well and I think you can tell that by the rise in his power numbers. He looks like he's starting to come into his own as a hitter and as a power hitter, especially in that ballpark. I've attacked him with fastballs away, sliders away and changeups away. Anytime you're facing a guy with power, they have holes. The heater down and away is still the toughest pitch to hit."
-- NL West pitcher

Less

Stewart privy to inside information on Bumgarner

Stewart privy to inside information on Bumgarner

PITTSBURGH -- Old information is better than no information at all, particularly in a must-win situation such as the National League Wild Card Game. Each team will seek any edge it can find.

To that end, Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Chris Stewart told his teammates everything he knew about a former teammate: Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco's starter in Wednesday's showdown at PNC Park.

More

  Date   Result Highlights
  Oct. 1   SF 8, PIT 0 video

"There's not too much we don't already know about him," said Stewart, who played for the Giants in 2011. "But as far as what's the stuff going to look like coming out of his hand, he's obviously a little untraditional out there, you could say, [with] the way he throws. I informed these guys how he likes to throw in certain situations, what his go-tos are [in] certain counts and certain situations throughout the game.

"It's nice that I can relay that to these guys so we kind of have a head start on it."

Bumgarner recorded a 2.91 ERA in his 13-game collaboration with Stewart, who was summoned from Triple-A after Buster Posey sustained his season-ending left leg injury in late May. The left-hander's ERA with other catchers that year was 3.43.

"He has the same competitiveness that he had back then," Stewart said. "Not too many things get under his skin."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Big games have brought out best in Blanco

Giants outfielder made several key plays during 2012 World Series

Big games have brought out best in Blanco

SAN FRANCISCO -- Anything can happen, the pundits say, in a one-game matchup. This makes Giants center fielder Gregor Blanco a prime candidate to make a difference in Wednesday's Wild Card Game at Pittsburgh, because he can do almost anything (watch on ESPN at 5 p.m. PT).

Blanco's multidimensional skills lend themselves to a single-game showdown. Maybe he'll make a difference by reaching base three or four times from the leadoff spot. Perhaps he can run into success as the Giants' most prolific and successful basestealer. Or he'll display his knack for the spectacular with a run-saving catch.

More

Game 2 of the 2012 World Series against Detroit exemplified Blanco's ability to tilt a game in the Giants' favor. In the second inning, his accurate relay following Delmon Young's double helped second baseman Marco Scutaro throw out Prince Fielder at home plate. Blanco then set up the game's first run in the seventh inning with a bunt single that slithered up the third-base line and rolled to a stop in fair territory.

  Date   Result Highlights
  Oct. 1   SF 8, PIT 0 video

In Game 3 of that World Series, Blanco accounted for all of San Francisco's offense in a 2-0 triumph. He tripled home Hunter Pence in the second inning before scoring on Brandon Crawford's single.

"I feel the same as 2012," Blanco said after Sunday's regular-season finale. "Just go out and have fun."

Confronting Edinson Volquez, Pittsburgh's Wild Card Game starter, hasn't always been fun for Blanco, who has struck out nine times in 22 regular-season plate appearances against the right-hander. Yet Blanco has managed to hit .263 (5-for-19) lifetime against Volquez.

"He's a guy who's going to come to you," said Blanco, who has faced only three other pitchers more in his Major League career.

Circumstances were not supposed to develop like this. The Giants envisioned Blanco as their fourth outfielder as the season began, replacing left fielder Michael Morse in late innings to bolster San Francisco's defense or giving center fielder Angel Pagan an occasional rest. Occasionally, Giants manager Bruce Bochy might feel compelled to platoon the left-handed-batting Blanco against right-handed pitchers.

But the injuries that sidelined Pagan (back) and Morse (left oblique) pushed Blanco into a more prominent role. After accumulating 90 plate appearances during the season's first two months, he totaled 88 in June, 94 in July, 72 in August and 100 in September. Blanco started 30 of San Francisco's final 31 games in either left or center, batting .282 with a respectable .837 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in this stretch.

Blanco appeared in a career-high 146 games, batting .260 while sharing the team lead with 16 stolen bases in 21 attempts (Pagan was 16-for-22).

"I thank the Giants for the opportunity," said Blanco, noting that his regular activity "definitely helps" as he strives to elevate his game. "I know some guys have been injured, but it's a moment for me to step it up and do the job."

Blanco possesses unseen value. Joe Panik, the rookie who provided essential stability at second base, attributed his offensive productivity partially to Blanco's presence directly in front of him at the leadoff spot.

"He's been on base a lot for me," Panik said. "Whenever somebody's on first base, first off, it opens up that four-hole [the infield's right side] for me. Also, pitchers are going to be more careful with him at first base and throw more fastballs."

Blanco's defensive skills, illustrated by his World Series throw and his catch of Jordan Schafer's drive that preserved Matt Cain's perfect game against Houston in 2012, remain intact.

"It's nice to know that if somebody gets a hold of one, he's going to have a good chance of running it down," Giants right-hander Ryan Vogelsong said.

Blanco relishes the intensity that Wednesday will bring. He grew accustomed to performing in critical games by playing for years with Caracas in the Venezuelan Winter League, where fans constantly demand an individual's best. "Where I come from, we play a lot of games under pressure like that," he said.

He won't mind another one.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

1971 NLCS vs. Bucs didn't end well for Giants

Unable to use ace Marichal until Game 3, San Francisco lost series, 3-1

1971 NLCS vs. Bucs didn't end well for Giants

SAN FRANCISCO -- The current Giants don't realize it, but they have a score to settle with the Pirates in Wednesday's National League Wild Card Game (watch on ESPN at 5 p.m. PT).

The teams' only other postseason meeting ended in heartbreak for the Giants, who dropped the 1971 NL Championship Series to the Pirates, 3-1. This dissolved the dominance the Giants had maintained over Pittsburgh during the regular season that year, when they won nine of 12 games against the Bucs.

More

  Date   Result Highlights
  Oct. 1   SF 8, PIT 0 video

"Because of the way we had played against them all year, our confidence level was up," said Chris Speier, who began his splendid 19-year Major League career that season with the Giants as their everyday shortstop. "We beat them up pretty bad during the season."

Yet the Giants almost didn't reach the postseason. They built a 10 1/2-game lead over second-place Los Angeles in the NL West by the end of May. The Dodgers proceeded to erode San Francisco's edge to one game by mid-September. Still leading Los Angeles by a game entering their regular-season finale at San Diego, the Giants relied on Juan Marichal, their magnificent ace. Marichal delivered, pitching a five-hitter as the Giants clinched the division title with a 5-1 victory.

Willie Mays contributed a key RBI double, Dave Kingman added a two-run homer and Willie McCovey roped a pair of hits. "Dodgers can go to hell," Giants catcher Dick Dietz crowed on live radio during the postgame celebration.

The Giants sustained that momentum in the NLCS opener against the Pirates at Candlestick Park, where Tito Fuentes and McCovey each hit two-run homers and Gaylord Perry pitched a gutty complete game in a 5-4 triumph.

The next day, however, Bob Robertson slugged three homers in a 9-4 Pirates rout.

"That really was an anomaly," recalled Giants left fielder Ken Henderson, who pointed out that left-hander John Cumberland appeared to be a solid choice as San Francisco's Game 2 starter. "You figure with a left-handed pitcher against their best hitters -- Al Oliver, Willie Stargell and Richie Hebner -- that we matched up pretty well," Henderson said.

Moreover, righties hit just .218 off Cumberland in the regular season.

The series shifted to Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium, where Marichal threw a complete-game four-hitter in Game 3. But two of those hits were homers by Robertson and Hebner, and a journeyman right-hander named Bob Johnson subdued the Giants for eight innings in a 2-1 decision.

"That was the pivotal game, in my mind," said Henderson, who scored San Francisco's lone run and collected one of five hits allowed by Johnson, who posted a 28-34 career record with five teams.

Facing a must-win situation in what was then a best-of-five series, the Giants jumped to a 5-2 lead in Game 4 before Pittsburgh roared back to win, 9-5. The Giants didn't return to the postseason until 1987.

"I think we really thought it was our series to win," Henderson said. Losing to Pittsburgh, he added, "was tough to take for a long, long time."

It's universally agreed that the Giants lost the series before it began by being forced to use Marichal against San Diego to seal the division title. This prevented them from starting their pair of future Hall of Fame right-handers, Marichal and Perry, in the series' first two games. Had both triumphed, the deficit might have been too much for Pittsburgh to overcome. Instead, Marichal couldn't pitch until Game 3.

"It would have been nice to go in with our pitching aligned, to be able to put your best guy out there in Game 1 and maybe have the ability to bring him back in Game 5," Speier said. "We were not going with our best guy. And it showed."

Then again, Speier added, games aren't played under theoretical circumstances: "Taking nothing away from Pittsburgh, because [in] this whole playoff scenario, you have all the analysts breaking down everything, saying, 'This team's better.' Well, you can throw that all out. Who would have thought Bob Robertson would hit three home runs in one game? It's the team that does what it has to do that day."

Speier, Cincinnati's bench coach when Pittsburgh defeated the Reds in last year's Wild Card Game, left no doubt who he'll be rooting for on Wednesday. "It would nice for the Giants to knock them out," Speier said. "It would be a little bit of 'get-back.'"

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Giants ready for wild environs in Pittsburgh

Bumgarner to face Volquez as club seeks better fortune vs. '13 WC winners

Giants ready for wild environs in Pittsburgh

SAN FRANCISCO -- Buster Posey watched last season's Wild Card Games from his couch, and he was impressed by the intense atmospheres created by the do-or-die contests. He'll experience it for himself on Wednesday at PNC Park in Pittsburgh at 5:07 p.m. PT on ESPN.

"I'm looking forward to it; it's going to be probably one of the better atmospheres we get to play in," Posey said of the Giants' National League Wild Card Game matchup with the Pirates.

More

Win-or-go-home games are nothing new for the Giants, who won a record-tying six elimination games en route to a World Series title in 2012. Couple that with the team's 2010 World Series championship, and there is no shortage of a playoff presence inside the Giants' clubhouse.

  Date   Result Highlights
  Oct. 1   SF 8, PIT 0 video
"The guys that have been through it know that it'll come down to pitching well and good defense," Posey said. "I think we have the offense that can get hot and sustain that hotness for a few weeks."

Manager Bruce Bochy isn't counting the Giants' past as an advantage, though, since the Pirates hosted and won last season's NL Wild Card Game.

The Pirates beat the Giants in four of their six meetings in 2014, winning two of three one-run games in Pittsburgh from May 5-7 and capturing two of three at AT&T Park in San Francisco from July 28-30. The game marks the teams' first postseason meeting since 1971, when the Pirates defeated the Giants, 3-1, in the NL Championship Series en route to winning the World Series.

Who the Giants would send to the mound Wednesday was never in doubt: Madison Bumgarner, the ace lefty with the 18-10 record and 2.98 ERA this season.

If history is any indicator, then the fact that Wednesday's game will be on the road for the Giants bodes even better, since Bumgarner is 11-4 with a 2.22 ERA away from AT&T Park. Regardless of where the game is played, the confidence level in the Giants' clubhouse rises on days Bumgarner pitches.

"When the guy takes the ball, there's that feeling that we're going to win," right-hander Ryan Vogelsong said, sharing the sentiment a handful of teammates have also recently vocalized. "As a pitcher, that's one of the best feelings you can have. I've had it here in the past where you can tell when you walk in the room that the guys are excited that you're on the mound that day.

"For me, the thing that stands out the most is the energy the team has when he takes the mound."

Bumgarner was rocked to the tune of five earned runs on six hits in just four innings July 28 in his lone start against the Pirates this season. His only career start at PNC Park came in 2011, and he struck out seven while allowing one run on five hits in six innings.

Who the Giants would face was much more of an uncertainty in the last few days. The Pirates unsuccessfully went all in this weekend in their attempt to win the NL Central, throwing top starters Francisco Liriano on Saturday and Gerrit Cole on Sunday. So, Edinson Volquez will start for Pittsburgh.

Volquez hasn't allowed an earned run in three of his last five starts, and he has a 1.10 ERA while holding opponents to a .170 batting average in his last six starts.

Volquez didn't start against the Giants this season, and he is 2-2 with a 5.72 ERA in 11 career starts against San Francisco. He was 0-1 with a 6.08 ERA in five starts against the Giants last season.

"He's throwing the ball very well," said Bochy, who got a head start in scouting Volquez the last couple of days. "He's been really locked in, how he's pitching."

Volquez's hot streak has helped catapult the Pirates in their regular season-ending tear, as they won 17 of their last 23 to secure home field for Wednesday's game. Combine that streak with Volquez's personal triumphs and the Pirates' 51-30 mark inside PNC Park, and the Giants' offense that has scored just 44 runs in its last 15 games has its work cut out.

"They really caught fire this month and almost won their division, so I expect to see a great ballgame," Bochy said. "We'll do all we can to get back here."

Projected Giants starting lineup, past results against Volquez
Gregor Blanco: 5-for-19, RBI
Joe Panik: N/A
Posey: 5-for-12, RBI, two doubles
Pablo Sandoval: 6-for-13, three RBIs, three doubles
Hunter Pence: 7-for-36, three homers, nine RBIs
Brandon Belt: 8-for-18, one homer, five RBIs
Brandon Crawford: 3-for-20
Travis Ishikawa: 1-for-4, RBI

Projected Pirates starting lineup, past results against Bumgarner
Josh Harrison: 4-for-5, one homer, RBI
Gregory Polanco: 0-for-1, RBI
Andrew McCutchen: 2-for-10
Neil Walker: 3-for-11, RBI
Russell Martin: 3-for-7, RBI
Starling Marte: N/A
Gaby Sanchez: 3-for-9, two RBIs
Jordy Mercer: 3-for-7

Worth noting
• Giants rookie reliever Hunter Strickland came up with the Pirates. They designated him for assignment in April 2013 to clear a roster spot for former Giant Jonathan Sanchez.

Since getting the September callup, Strickland has struck out nine and allowed just five hits in seven shutout innings.

• Bochy said Sunday that Michael Morse (strained left oblique) has taken light swings. If Morse is included on the 25-man roster for Wednesday, it will purely be in a pinch-hitting role.

Ryan Hood is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryanhood19. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Fans can vote for Aaron Award nominee Pence

Help decide this season's top offensive performer in each league

Fans can vote for Aaron Award nominee Pence

Voting is underway through Sunday exclusively at MLB.com to help decide the 16th annual winners of the Hank Aaron Award, given by "The Hammer" himself during the upcoming 110th World Series to the outstanding offensive performer in each league.

American League nominees include Nelson Cruz of Baltimore, David Ortiz of Boston, Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox, Michael Brantley of Cleveland, Victor Martinez of Detroit, Jose Altuve of Houston, Alex Gordon of Kansas City, Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels, Trevor Plouffe of Minnesota, Brett Gardner of the New York Yankees, Josh Donaldson of Oakland, Robinson Cano of Seattle, Evan Longoria of Tampa Bay, Adrian Beltre of Texas and Jose Bautista of Toronto.

More

National League candidates include Paul Goldschmidt of Arizona, Justin Upton of Atlanta, Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs, Devin Mesoraco of Cincinnati, Justin Morneau of Colorado, Adrian Gonzalez of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Giancarlo Stanton of Miami, Jonathan Lucroy of Milwaukee, Daniel Murphy of the New York Mets, Andrew McCutchen of Pittsburgh, Matt Carpenter of St. Louis, Seth Smith of San Diego, Hunter Pence of San Francisco and Anthony Rendon of Washington.

Goldschmidt is going after his second straight Hank Aaron Award, having been the NL choice last year for the first time. Miguel Cabrera was the AL recipient each of the past two years, but V-Mart's nomination by Detroit means an end to that streak.

"As one of the game's most talented and respected players ever, it is appropriate that Major League Baseball recognizes the top offensive performers in each league with an award named in honor of Hank Aaron," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "Each of the nominees should be applauded for their outstanding seasons, which will make selecting just one winner in each league a difficult task for Hank, our Hall of Fame panel and our participating fans."

"I am honored to have my name on the award given by Major League Baseball to the top offensive performers in the game," Aaron said. "Each of the nominees is talented and deserving, which makes me grateful to have the assistance of my fellow Hall of Famers and the fans to help select the winners."

For the fifth consecutive year, a special panel of Hall of Fame players led by Aaron will join fans in voting for the award, which is officially sanctioned by MLB and has recognized the top offensive threat in each league since it was established in 1999.

The panel includes some of the greatest offensive players of all-time -- Roberto Alomar, Johnny Bench, Paul Molitor, Eddie Murray, Frank Thomas and Robin Yount. These Hall of Famers -- who combined for 16,956 hits, 8,844 RBIs and 2,109 home runs -- have been personally selected by Aaron to lend their expertise to select the best offensive performer in each league.

Do you go with a masher, like Stanton or Cruz? Or do you recognize a guy like Altuve, who led the Majors in batting average and led the AL in stolen bases? Home run kings often fare well in this process, but Chris Davis (53 homers) was trumped last year by Cabrera. And what about Trout, often referred to as the game's best player?

Past winners of the Hank Aaron Award include Cabrera and Goldschmidt (2013); Cabrera and Buster Posey (2012); Bautista and Matt Kemp (2011); Bautista and Joey Votto (2010); Derek Jeter and Albert Pujols (2009); Aramis Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis (2008); Rodriguez and Prince Fielder (2007); Jeter and Ryan Howard (2006); Ortiz and Andruw Jones (2005); Manny Ramirez and Barry Bonds (2004); Alex Rodriguez and Pujols (2003); Rodriguez and Bonds (2001-02); Carlos Delgado and Todd Helton (2000) and Manny Ramirez and Sammy Sosa (1999).

The award was introduced in 1999 to honor the 25th anniversary of Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's all-time home run record. At that time, it was the first major award introduced by MLB in more than 25 years.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Position-by-position breakdown for Giants-Pirates

Position-by-position breakdown for Giants-Pirates

It's often said that experience plays a pivotal role come October. This year's National League Wild Card Game (Wednesday night at 8:07 ET) between the Giants and Pirates presents an interesting twist on that traditional concept.

The Giants' roster has a number of players who were part of the club's World Series title runs in both 2010 and '12. That said, those players never had to win a one-game playoff, though the Giants did win do-or-die games in the 2012 NL Division Series and NL Championship Series.

More

As for the Pirates, they were in this exact situation just one year ago. Pittsburgh won the inaugural NL Wild Card Game -- with some of its current players leading the way -- in a raucous atmosphere at PNC Park last year.

  Date   Result Highlights
  Oct. 1   SF 8, PIT 0 video

Though the Pirates were hoping to win the NL Central and avoid another Wild Card Game this time around, their fate was ultimately sealed with a loss on the final day of the regular season. Their consolation prize for finishing 88-74 is a one-game playoff against the Giants, who finished with an identical 88-74 record. The Pirates get to host the game by virtue of winning four of the six regular-season meetings.

Plenty has changed since the clubs last met on July 30, however, so let's take a look at how these teams currently stack up, position by position.

CATCHER
Russell Martin may have been the star of the Wild Card Game a year ago, going 3-for-4 with a pair of homers in Pittsburgh's victory over the Reds, but the Giants still have former MVP Buster Posey behind the plate. Posey put up a solid .311/.364/.490 slash line to go with 22 homers and 89 RBIs in the regular season. Not only does Posey enter Wednesday's game red-hot after hitting .393 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in September, he's 5-for-9 lifetime against Pirates starter Edinson Volquez. Advantage: Giants

FIRST BASE
A healthy Brandon Belt could be a difference-maker for the Giants this October. Coming off a breakout season of sorts in 2013, Belt was limited to just 61 games this year due to three stints on the disabled list. He returned on Sept. 17 and seems to be getting hot at the right time, turning in three multihit games over his final six, going 8-for-21 (.381) with a homer in that span. Gaby Sanchez will get the start for the Pirates with lefty Madison Bumgarner on the mound -- not to mention Ike Davis has been battling flu-like symptoms. Advantage: Giants

SECOND BASE
This may be one of the most intriguing matchups in this game. In a battle of experience versus youth, the Pirates have veteran Neil Walker at second base, while the Giants counter with breakout rookie Joe Panik. Walker, who hit a career-high 23 homers this year, went 2-for-5 in the Wild Card Game a year ago before going 0-for-19 in the Pirates' loss to the Cardinals in the NLDS. As for Panik, he burst onto the scene, hitting .305 over 73 games -- including .327 after the All-Star break -- in his debut season. This one could truly go either way, but experience wins out over a rookie making his postseason debut in a Wild Card Game on the road. Advantage: Pirates

THIRD BASE
The hot corner in this matchup boasts a couple of star players, though they appear to be trending in opposite directions. Josh Harrison's breakout year, which included his first All-Star appearance, was one of the keys to the Pirates' season. The runner-up for the NL batting title, Harrison hit .315, including a combined .342 in August and September. As for Pablo Sandoval, the two-time All-Star hit just .218 in September and could potentially be playing his final game with the Giants. Advantage: Pirates

SHORTSTOP
There isn't a whole lot that separates Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford and Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer. The two have played nearly identical seasons on both sides of the ball -- and both sides of the All-Star break. Crawford finished the year with a .246/.324/.389 slash line compared to Mercer's .255/.305/.387 line, with both players settling in nicely as the year went on. Even the defensive metrics for the two are nearly identical. Advantage: Push

LEFT FIELD
The injuries to Michael Morse and Angel Pagan caused the Giants to do some shuffling with their outfield down the stretch. Those injuries will result in Travis Ishikawa, who began the season in a first-base platoon on the Pirates, as the Giants' starting left fielder in the Wild Card Game. It'll be just his fourth start in left field all year. The Pirates, meanwhile, will counter with the well-rounded Starling Marte in left field. Marte was one of just three players this year to hit 10 or more home runs and swipe at least 30 bases, joining Carlos Gomez and Jacoby Ellsbury. Advantage: Pirates

CENTER FIELD
Pagan's absence certainly impacts this matchup, though it's one the Pirates would win either way. Andrew McCutchen, the defending NL MVP, was every bit as good, if not even better, this year for the Pirates. He posted a Major League-best .410 on-base percentage to go along with 25 home runs, 38 doubles, 83 RBIs and 18 stolen bases. The Giants will start Gregor Blanco, who may be tasked with setting the table at the top of the order in Pagan's absence. Advantage: Pirates

RIGHT FIELD
Along with continuing to be one of the Giants' emotional leaders on and off the field, Hunter Pence did something this year that no other player in the Majors accomplished: The three-time All-Star was the only big leaguer to hit at least 20 home runs and doubles, as well as 10 or more triples. The durable Pence also played in all 162 games for the second straight year. Travis Snider has done a respectable job since entering the starting lineup, though he spent much of the year as one of the Pirates' top pinch-hitting options off the bench. Advantage: Giants

BENCH
Davis' health could play a pivotal role in this game. He's been battling flu-like symptoms the past few days, though he would not have been in the starting lineup against a left-hander anyway. That said, if he's able to make a late-game pinch-hitting appearance, he's capable of changing the game with one swing of the bat. No team racked up more pinch-hit RBIs this year than the Pirates' 43, though 21 of those came from Sanchez and Snider, who are both expected to start on Wednesday. The injuries to Pagan and Morse, meanwhile, have forced some of the Giants' top bench options into the starting lineup in recent weeks. Advantage: Pirates

STARTING PITCHER
One of the most-talked about topics surrounding this game is the Pirates' decision to start ace Gerrit Cole in Sunday's regular-season finale instead of saving him for Wednesday's Wild Card Game. That leaves Volquez -- just one year removed from posting a Major League-worst 5.71 ERA -- to start the Wild Card Game. Volquez, however, has been an entirely different pitcher this year, finishing with a 3.04 ERA and going 5-0 with a 1.63 ERA over the final two months. That said, the Giants are still turning to their ace Bumgarner, who went 18-10 with a 2.98 ERA, including 11-4 with a 2.22 ERA on the road. Advantage: Giants

BULLPEN
Both clubs have found stability after undergoing midseason changes to their bullpen hierarchy. The Giants removed Sergio Romo from the closer's role, which proved to be a turning point in Romo's season. He's posted a 2.10 ERA in 30 appearances since the change, after struggling to a 5.01 ERA in his first 34 outings. That said, Tony Watson has been incredible all year for the Pirates, tallying 10 wins while posting a 1.63 ERA in 78 appearances. The Pirates have a 2.80 team bullpen ERA since Aug. 1, while the Giants have a 3.98 ERA in that span. Advantage: Pirates

CLOSER
Both Mark Melancon and Santiago Casilla have done a remarkable job after being thrust into the closer's role midseason. Melancon took over for struggling closer Jason Grilli in early May, while Casilla replaced Romo at the end of June. Melancon excelled on his way to 33 saves, while also allowing just four earned runs over 40 1/3 innings at PNC Park this year -- good for a 0.89 home ERA. Casilla notched 19 saves to go with a 1.70 ERA, but has a 3.06 ERA since Aug. 1. Melancon has a 1.48 ERA in that same span. Advantage: Pirates

Paul Casella is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Antonelli recalls pitching for Giants in '54 Series

Left-hander won 22 games as team won last championship in New York

Antonelli recalls pitching for Giants in '54 Series

Former New York Giants ace Johnny Antonelli holds a World Series record that's been equaled once, but can't ever be broken.

The home run that Cleveland Indians leadoff man Al Smith hit off him, in Game 2 of the 1954 Fall Classic, was the only one ever recorded on the first pitch of a World Series contest until Derek Jeter accomplished the feat in Game 4 against the Mets in 2000.

More

It's one of the few mistakes Antonelli made that day -- Sept. 30, 1954 -- or that season, during which he went 21-7 with a National League-best six shutouts and 2.30 ERA while helping the Giants sweep the heavily-favored Indians, whose 111 wins were the most ever in a 154-game season.

"I'm still leading the league in that respect," Antonelli, 84, joked about the home run he gave up, looking back on the 60th anniversary of the Giants' last World Series championship in New York. They moved to San Francisco at the end of the 1957 campaign.

"Cleveland was a great ballclub," he said. "They had Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, Mike Garcia and Bob Feller pitching. We were just confident we could win. But the four straight was kind of a miracle as far as we were concerned."

Two of the most dramatic moments in World Series history helped the Giants win Game 1. The first was "The Catch," Willie Mays' eighth-inning over-the-shoulder grab of Vic Wertz's blast to deep center field that would have plated two runs and given the Indians a 4-2 lead.

"I saw it from the bench," Antonelli recalled. "We knew he had it because when Willie pounded his glove we knew he was going to catch it."

Antonelli, a 1948 Boston Braves "bonus baby," had come to the Giants that year in a trade with Milwaukee for Bobby Thomson, whose "Shot Heard 'Round the World" had won the 1951 pennant for New York. Antonelli, a southpaw, had a simple philosophy about pitching at the Polo Grounds, where he took a perfect 12-0 record into September.

"If you could keep hitters from pushing or pulling the ball down those short foul lines [280 to left field, 258 to right], Mays would catch everything else from right-center to left-center," he said.

Game 1's other hero was left-handed pinch-hitter Dusty Rhodes, taking the place no less of future Hall of Famer Monte Irwin, whose pop fly down the right-field line dropped into the first row of seats, about 270 feet from home, for a dramatic 5-2 Giants victory in 10 innings.

Antonelli's Game 2 triumph wasn't a masterpiece as he scattered eight hits and walked six. But he also fanned nine Indians batters and stranded 13 runners for a hard-earned, complete-game victory. "I was in trouble all but one inning," he said. "We just seemed to get the next guy out. Luckily, we won 3-1."

New York held a commanding two-game lead as the Series shifted to Cleveland, where the Giants completed the sweep with 6-2 and 7-4 wins in Games 3 and 4, respectively. The Giants jumped out to big, early leads in both contests.

In the finale, Antonelli came on in relief with one down in the eighth inning and closed out the game, earning a save by striking out three of the six batters he faced. "It was common back then for starters to pitch in relief during a World Series," he said.

The '54 campaign was a breakout season for Antonelli and included the first of five trips to the All-Star Game. In addition to six shutouts, he only allowed one run in six other games, and two runs in a half-dozen others. So he only allowed an average one run per game in 18 of his 21 victories.

A Rochester, N.Y., native, Antonelli signed a $65,000 bonus contract with the Braves, the largest in history at the time, and made his debut on July 4, 1948 at the age of 18. Boston reached the World Series that year, but Antonelli had only appeared in four games and was left off the postseason roster.

The next year, he and catcher Del Crandall combined for another rare baseball feat as the youngest batterymates in baseball history. Both just 19, their combined age was less than that of 40-year-old Dutch Leonard, the Cubs' opposing starting hurler.

"There have been younger pitchers, but never a younger pitcher and catcher," Antonelli said.

He spent 1951 and '52 in the Army, even marching in President Dwight D. Eisenhower's inauguration parade with the 3rd Infantry Regiment. Many other big leaguers, including Mays, were drafted during the Korean War, so Antonelli's service team saw stiff competition, and he also played against Japan's top players while serving overseas there.

The experience made up for the Minor League seasoning he never got with the Braves. In 1953, he went a respectable 12-12 with Milwaukee and was then dealt to New York in a six-player deal. The Braves already had two lefties, future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn and Chet Nichols, who had just gotten out of the service.

"I was kind of surprised when the trade was made," Antonelli said. "Milwaukee had a great young ballclub (1954 was Hank Aaron's rookie season). I thought we were going to have a good team for years to come."

Antonelli holds one other unique distinction. He lost the last game the New York Giants played at the Polo Grounds. He pitched for the Giants through 1960 and split 1961, his final season in the Majors, between Cleveland and Milwaukee.

Antonelli was selected by the expansion 1962 New York Mets, which would have brought him back to the Polo Grounds. But he was tired of traveling and had already started a thriving chain of Firestone Tire stores, so he turned down the offer and retired.

"I remember Casey Stengel, the Mets' manager, saying, 'Johnny must be selling a lot of those black donuts [tires],'" Antonelli said.

Antonelli knew the Mets wouldn't be very good and didn't want to blemish his stellar career with another unenviable record. "Roger Craig lost 24 games for the Mets that year," he said. "I would have been right behind him. So I sent the contract back. I didn't want to be that kind of pioneer."

Paul Post is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less