The battle of the curveball will be on display in St. Louis in the opener of the National League Division Series. Adam Wainwright is the beast, and he has the best one in the game. A.J. Burnett is nipping at his heels, but as much as everyone wants to put the focus of the opening game of the National League Division Series on the pitchers, we think it will be about the offense–the Pirates have an .837OPS, not so much recently against Beast, but the success is there.
What worries us is what Wainwright has been doing with his time while the Bucs have been working their asses off to get to the opening game of the LDS.
We know the Bucs are gonna score. We just can’t tell how much.
While digging into Wainwright, it’s just tremendous how much work he does, how much production he gives his team. After getting rocked in late August and early September, he has settled down the stretch to pile up victories for the Cards.
He has a cutter – a freaking sick cutter – that churns out groundballs and allows very few hard liners.
If you look at the hot zones below, you will notice what seperates the pitcher whose name means “I build wagons” (Mental Note: maybe that can be used by the PNC faithful on Monday night–should it come to that–’YOU BUILD WAGONS!!! YOU BUILD WAGONS!!! YOU BUILD WAGONS!!!’) WAIT, where were we? oh yeah, Wainwright’s four seamer and sinker put him into the elite of MLB pitchers. Wainwright rarely walks batters and led the league for most of the year in that category. He is an efficient worker on the bump.
While Burnett relies mainly on two pitches, Wainwright has a handful. His sinker dives to the right. His cutter is slower and goes the opposite direction. The Cards ace also absolutely loves to throw the curveball against left-handed hitters, and we will see a lot of that happening tonight when Justin Morneau, Pedro Alvarez, and Garrett Jones are at the plate.
But the bottom line is this. As most of you know, the Pirates have had success against Wainwright, though not as much recently. In the most recent start against the Bucs, Wainwright went seven and gave up just two hits in a 5-0 shutout win. It’s what can’t happen in the opener of the LDS – Andrew McCutchen getting hits with nobody on base in front of him.
Wainwright went seven and gave up two bombs, but the Cards got the win in that heartbreaker on August 13 when they left eleven on base.
The Bucs beat the Cardinals on July 31 when Wainwright gave up eight hits, but somehow still managed to go seven innings.
Neil Freaking Walker murdered the “most valuable curve in baseball” –it was gone by a mile as the Pirates GM watched from the booth. Cutch nearly made it back-to-back, but it was caught at the wall. Despite hitting just .211 off Wainwright, back in August, El Toro ripped a cutter for one of his career-high six RBI in the game.
An x factor tonight is Alvarez. Look for Pedro to see a lot of cutters from Wainwright based on what he has done against him this season.
But that other side of our brain looks at the 222 pitches Wainwright has thrown in his last two outings against the Bucs–14 innings, nine hits, fourteen strikeouts, but two bombs allowed.
It’s a common statement, but it’s essential for the Pirates top of the order to get on base so that when, not if, the meat of the order provides that blast it’s a crooked number. The Pirates are going to score on the Cards ace, its just a matter of how much they can pile on the right-hander.
Another thing to consider is that Wainwright has thrown 241 innings this season. Burnett has thrown 50 less innings and that leads the Bucs staff. None will be more crucial than those innings that start at 5:07 pm. Wainwright threw 616 pitches in the month of September – damn, that’s a big number. Burnett threw 481 pitches in September.
The Pirates made good use of their time off to prepare for Johnny Cueto. All of the extra work paid off; we think this game comes down to how well Wainwright took the time to prepare a strategy for facing the Pirates hitters.
It scares us a little bit.
But all monsters, all beasts get defeated in the end. Perhaps the Pirates offense, suddenly clubbing bombs regularly, will be the Beast. Let’s trust that a happy ending is in store, because a 1-0 lead in the NLDS would put serious pressure on the NL Central champs.
Checking out the ESPN Hot Zone is really interesting, too.