2013 NLDS: Pittsburgh vs. St. Louis Preview

By Andrew Bantly on October 3, 2013 at 3:35pm

Preview:

Where were you October 14, 1992? Well that was the last time the Pittsburgh Pirates were in the playoffs before the NL Wildcard game where the Pirates defeated the Cincinnati Reds 6-2 backed by a great pitching performance from Francisco Liriano. It has been a long time since the Steel City saw playoff baseball to say the least. That isn’t the case for the St. Louis Cardinals; in fact the Redbirds are a very experienced club when it comes to October baseball. Twelve of the current players on the roster were on that 2011 Cardinal team where they won the World Series while for the Pirates only AJ Burnett has a World Series ring.

Now don’t count out the Pirates in this series due to their lack of postseason experience. Sure the Cardinals have been in the playoffs each of the last three seasons, but these teams know each other well.

“We know the Cardinals and they know us; there won’t be any secrets,” Pirates second basemen Neil Walker said.

The Pirates hold the season series between the Cardinals winning 10 out of 19 games. As the record between the two shows, these teams are very similar. The Bucs have the third best team ERA in baseball (3.26); the Cardinals rank fifth in this category (3.42). St. Louis scored the most runs this year in the NL (783, 4.8 per game); Pittsburgh scored the 8th most (634, 3.9 per game). Though there is a great difference between the two numbers in runs scored, it is because PNC Park, home of the Pirates, is a very friendly ballpark to pitchers.

The Cardinals do, though, stand alone when it comes to situations with runners in scoring position. They hit, as a team, .330, which is nearly 60 points higher than their overall batting average (.269). Meanwhile the Pirates hit just .229 with runners in scoring position.

Now the Pirates are a great defensive team. Their infielders use the shift more than any other team in baseball. With Clint Barmes and Neil Walker at shortstop the Pittsburgh Pirates turned groundballs into outs at a better rate than any other team. Of course the Pirates have Andrew McCutchen, a 2012 Gold Glove winner, controlling the outfield in center. In addition, Pirate backstop Russell Martin threw out 40% of would-be-base stealers in 2013. But to the Cardinals credit, they have the best defensive catcher in the majors. Though the Cardinals don’t make many errors they have a weak defense overall. Most notably Matt Holliday in left field who is a notoriously poor outfielder and Carlos Beltran who’s weak knees limit his abilities in the right field position.

To the Cardinals credit they have battled all season long. With players Rafael Furcal, Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, and Jason Motte all out with injuries the Cardinals still, as they do, find a way to win with players stepping up. Especially Matt Adams who has had to fill in for first baseman Allen Craig and has done a solid job.

The Cardinals will have home field advantage and have proven throughout the year that playing at home is a true advantage. With a 54-27 record at home, 6-3 at home against Pittsburgh; the Cardinals will enjoy having the first two games and final game, if needed, in St. Louis.

Though the Cardinals didn’t know if they would be playing the Pirates or Reds in this NLDS, the Pirates planned to be at Busch Stadium before the Wild Card game even started.

“We didn’t talk about one and done, we talked about one and run” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said in an interview. “Win one and run to St. Louis.”

Key Players:

Pittsburgh:

1. SP AJ Burnett

Burnett will get the ball in game one for the Pirates and will strive to lead his team like Liriano did just days ago. Burnett, who has postseason experience, has a 5.08 ERA in seven postseason games. As high as that might seem, Burnett has succeeded in the NLDS where he is 1-0 with a 1.54 ERA. With that said, Burnett has clearly struggled at Busch Stadium with a 1-2 record and a 13.50 ERA in four starts their. AJ Burnett will have to keep his team in the game in game one because in such a short series the Pirates will likely have to take one of the first two games in St. Louis if they want to move on to the NLCS.

2. SP Gerrit Cole

The number 1 pick in the 2011 amateur draft has really matured since his debut back on June 11, 2013. With just 19 career MLB starts he has an impressive 10 win record with a 3.22 ERA. Cole who has seen his strikeout rates increase since playing around with a new curve ball has been a real reason why the Pirates rotation had the third lowest ERA in the MLB. Though Cole has been hot of late, picking up 39 strikeouts in 32 innings with a 1.69 ERA and leading the Pirates to win each one of his starts in September, it will be a big question how the rookie will pitch in game 2 of the series in St. Louis.

3.RF Marlon Byrd

As a late season addition for the Pirates, Marlon Byrd has been a catalyst in the heart of their lineup. In 30 games with the Bucs Byrd hit .318 with 17 RBIs and maintaining a .843 OPS. Byrd has energized the team and fans since he arrived and Reds’ manager Dusty Baker clearly noticed this in the Wild Card game saying; “It was a huge addition that hurt us a lot in Marlon Byrd. I think he got four or five RBIs the other day, hit one out today, enough to get them on the board, give them the momentum and get the fans in it.” Byrd will have to continue to help McCutchen in the heart of the lineup if the Pirates want to keep up with the Cardinals offense.

St. Louis:

1. SP Lance Lynn

Lance Lynn will get the ball in game 2 for the Cardinals. It has been an up and down year for Lynn as he almost lost his spot in the rotation. But he will get the ball on Friday due to finishing the year strong with 4 quality starts and allowing just 3 earned runs over his final 24 2/3 innings. Manager Mike Matheny has been proud of his starter’s recent success and feels that Lynn deserves starting game 2. “I think it’s something that he’s earned,” Matheny said. “Right now, I think he also has a great amount of confidence and that’s something he’s going to be able to take to another level. He’s been very consistent here in his last couple of starts and really has a good temp and feel off the mound.” Lynn will go up against rookie Gerrit Cole which could make or break the series for both teams.

2. SP Joe Kelly/SP Shelby Miller

Either Joe Kelly or Shelby Miller will start game 3 for the Cardinals in Pittsburgh against Pirates’ ace Francisco Liriano. Both Kelly and Miller are young players, Miller a rookie. It will be important for whichever starter who gets the ball to dominate. Though Miller who had the most wins for a rookie pitcher this year with 15, I expect Joe Kelly to get the ball as the more seasoned of the two. Further more, Kelly has been dominate at PNC Park with a 2-0 record and 0.64 ERA. Kelly also has 7.2 innings of playoff experience from the Cardinal’s 2012 run.

3. 2B Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter, a second basemen, deserves MVP consideration. He has been undoubtedly one of the best players in the NL and he has done this quietly. This year Carpenter scored 126 runs due in large part to his .392 OBP. At the top of the lineup Carpenter must continue to wreak havoc to the opposition by getting on base and scoring runs.

Game Predictions:

Game One: October 3, 2013 at St. Louis (5:00pm EST)

Burnett (10-11, 3.30) vs. Wainwright (19-9, 2.94)

With Burnett’s struggles at Busch Stadium and Wainwright’s consistent dominance at home (2.53 ERA and .217 AVG against) I expect the Cardinals to win the opening game. Watch the match up between Burnett and Jon Jay and Carlos Beltran who both hit over .300 against Burnett and Carpenter who hits a.429 clip against the Pirates’ starter.

Game Two: October 4, 2013 at St. Louis (1:00pm EST)

Gerrit Cole (10-7, 3.22) vs. Lance Lynn (15-10, 3.97)

This game will be the most significant game in the series. I expect the Pirates to respond behind a great start by Gerrit Cole and tie the series at one. Lance Lynn is an inconsistent pitcher and gets hit hard against the Pirates who hold a .282 average off of Lynn with 4 homeruns. I don’t expect this game to be a blowout but I do expect the Pirates to get ahead early and control the game throughout.

Game Three: October 6, 2013 at Pittsburgh (TBD)

TBA vs. Francisco Liriano (16-8, 3.02)

Francisco Liriano will be on the mound for the Bucs and will have to be just as dominate as he was against the Reds. At home Liriano has won 9 of his last 10 decisions and has allowed just one home run in 80 2/3 innings. But don’t think that that Liriano will automatically control this game. I expect with Joe Kelly on the mound that this game will be a pitching duel. This game will come down to the bullpen for both teams where Pittsburgh holds a great advantage. I see the Pirates winning in the late innings by just a few runs.

Game Four*: October 7, 2013 at Pittsburgh (TBD)

Assuming no injuries expect the rotation to reset with AJ Burnett facing Adam Wainwright. Like game one, I can’t see AJ Burnett outdueling Adam Wainwright even at PNC Park. Wainwright has the experience and has proven throughout his career that he is a dominating pitcher. Expect the Cardinals to win this game with slight ease.

Game Five*: October 9, 2013 at St. Louis (TBD)

I do expect this NLDS to go to a game 5. Though Gerrit Cole will likely be on the mound in this situation, Liriano could get the spot start if Cole falls apart in game 2. As the same for the Cardinals I could see Joe Kelly or even Shelby Miller filling in for Lance Lynn if he tanks. Being in St. Louis and having the momentum I expect the Cardinals to win. All in all, the lineup of the Redbirds will hit and hit hard in this game right from the beginning.

*If Necessary

Summary:

I think this will be one of the most exciting series’ to watch this Divisional round due to the divisional opponents facing each other and the great headline of an experienced Cardinal team facing “the new kid on the block,” of course referring to the Pirates who are in their first post season in 21 years.

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