NLDS Preview: Five Keys To Beating The Cardinals
The bad thing about the wild card game is that it’s nearly a coin flip. The good thing about the wild card game (at least this time) is that the Pirates side came up on top. While the drama of a one game playoff may be enjoyable for the casual fan, there’s not much to it. You put your best pitcher on the mound, pray that he doesn’t come up lame, and hope that your bats come up with a few timely hits. The divisonal series is different from this. To beat the Cardinals and move on to the NLCS, there are five key things that must happen for the Pirates:
1. Hit Wainwright. Adam Wainwright is one of the five best pitchers in the National League, and possibly in all of baseball, but for whatever reason, he’s struggled mightily against the Pirates over the course of his career. Since entering the league in 2005, the Brunswick, Georgia native has an ERA of 4.81 against the Bucs. We know barring a miraculous act of God that Wainwright is almost certain to at least go seven innings, so the Pirates need to take advantage of the time they have against Wainwright in game one. Smitty wrote more about the matchup with Wainwright.
2. Neutralize Yadier Molina. First off, Pirates fans need to thank their lucky stars that Albert Pujols no longer plays for the Cardinals, because he would bury the Pirates. The second worst Pirate killer over any extended period of time is Yadier Molina. Against the Bucs in his career, Molina has hit .308/.365/.465, with sixty-one RBI over 120+ games. To say that Molina is a good catcher is a huge understatement, and keeping him from taking over games is not going to be easy, but it’s another step the Pirates have to take in order to beat St. Louis.
Sep 27, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez hits a single against the Cincinnati Reds in the eighth inning at Great American Ball Park. Pittsburgh won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
3. The Bull must run. Over the last two weeks, Pedro Alvarez is hitting .300/.364/.575, and to further compound his great performance, he is to the Cardinals what Molina is to the Pirates. Alvarez has decimated St. Louis pitching over his career, slashing .254/.304/.473, and he has an OPS of .812 at Busch stadium. The Pirates didn’t exactly lack for pop in the lineup over their most recent clashes with the Reds, but it never hurts to have a little more. Alvarez needs to have a pretty big series for the Pirates to beat the Reds.
4. Rock PNC, again. It’s hard to measure with any kind of empirically verifiable data, but it was clear that the atmosphere at PNC Park on Monday was a factor in the Pirates win. Johnny Cueto was clearly uncomfortable with 40,000 people taunting him, and Joey Votto looked like a little leaguer. Their skills don’t just disappear overnight, so there was clearly something going on inside their heads thanks to the atmosphere on the north shore. The Pirates get two home games in this series (unless they’re swept), and they need to take full advantage of them, as they have all season.
Sep 14, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) delivers a pitch against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
5. Riding the Coletrain: Cole was disgusting for the whole month of September. It was nearly impossible to find something to complain about with Cole’s play over the last month. His ERA in September was 1.69, and his K/BB ratio was nearly four. His start will be his first against St. Louis, but he’s clearly ready for it. How ready? He went out and threw a bullpen while the team celebrated their victory over the Reds on Monday night. Mr. Intensity is clearly amped for his first playoff start, and an amped Gerrit Cole is a good Gerrit Cole.
Playoff baseball is a new beast to the team from the Steel City, and to its fans, but the Cardinals are not. Baseball is a strange game, but these teams have met nineteen times already this year. Baseball is a game built around pitching, defense, and timely hitting. The Pirates have had all three of those things recently, and there’s no reason that it needs to stop now. If the Pirates fulfill these micro-objectives, they’ll take the next step towards their bigger goal.