|Adam Wainwright might be the difference maker in|
a tightly contested series.
Photo courtesy of bk1bennett via Flickr
The Cardinals certainly have more experienced and test playoff arms, but they also have some fresh faces that have yet to dial it up when in the postseason. The Redbirds have tabbed Adam Wainwright (19-9, 2.94 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and 219 K in 241.2 IP) for Game 1 and Lance Lynn (15-10, 3.97 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 198 K in 201.2 IP) for Game 2. Manager Mike Matheny will not name a Game 3 starter as of yet.
The Pirates selected A.J. Burnett (10-11, 3.30 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 209 K in 191 IP) as their Game 1 starter, having used Francisco Liriano in the NL Wild Card game. Liriano (16-8, 3.02 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 163 K in 161 IP) will pitch in Game 3 when the series shifts to Pittsburgh. In between the Bucs will trot rookie Gerrit Cole (10-7, 3.22 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 100 K in 117.1 IP) to the mound. Charlie Morton (7-4, 3.26 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 116 IP) is scheduled for Game 4 and Burnett would take the hill if the series goes the distance in Game 5.
Both bullpens have had success this season. The Cardinals will have six rookies in the pen, but each arm is pretty dynamic, including newly-anointed closer Trevor Rosenthal (2.63 ERA, 3 saves and 108 K in 75.1 IP). The Pirates have an excellent eighth and ninth inning tandem in Mark Melancon (1.39 ERA, 16 saves, 70 K in 71 IP) and Jason Grilli (2.70 ERA, 33, 74 K in 50 IP). If either of these teams gets a late lead, I would not expect it to slip away.
The Cardinals have a more balanced and deeper lineup than the Pirates, but the Pirates group of hitters can get hot and they have some players riding such streaks as the NLDS begins.
The Cards feature on-base hogs (.331 OBP was tops in the NL) and possess the ability to score plenty of runs (783, also tops in the league) without relying on the home run. They led the NL in doubles balancing their 13th place finish in the league’s home run tally.
The Cardinals lineup is filled with experienced playoff faces and they do not rely on one singular player to carry the load. The Cardinals had six regular players with OPS over .800, led by Matt Holliday’s .879 and Matt Carpenter’s .873. Carpenter led the National League in runs (126), hits (199) and doubles (55) in a breakout season.
The Pirates were eighth in the league in runs scored and middle of the pack in many other offensive categories, but third in home runs. That fire power comes from MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen (.317/.404/.508 with 21 HR and 27 SB) and third baseman Pedro Alvarez (36 home runs tied for the NL lead). Second baseman Neil Walker comes in swinging a big stick with six homers in his last 10 regular season games, and 16 overall. Marlon Byrd, received in a trade from the New York Mets is playing great baseball.
The Pirates will run, stealing 94 bases this season, but they also got caught stealing 42 times, which was second in the league. I wouldn’t anticipate much running against Cardinal’s catcher Yadier Molina however. The Pirates will have to take advantage of any baserunners they get on with the big bombs.
Matheny got his squad to the postseason for the second straight season of his tenure and third in a row for the team. This was Matheny’s first NL Central crown. The former catcher is lauded and criticized by his fanbase, but the long and short of it is he’s gotten them in a position to ride out home field advantage throughout the NL playoffs.
Clint Hurdle has been in the playoffs as a manager before, taking the 2007 Colorado Rockies to the World Series. Hurdle has completely changed the persona of this Pirates team since taking over in 2011. Each season they got a little better and this year they were able to sustain a great start and notch 94 wins. His players love working hard for him and he has every confidence in their abilities.
This was an evenly matched regular season series with the Pirates winning 10 of 19, though the Cardinals won the last four meetings. Each team knows the other very well, so there will not be many surprises for each club. I expect a tight series with the Cardinals winning in five as they make their way back to the NLCS. Who do you have?