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NLDS Preview: Pirates vs. Cardinals

Oct 3, 2013, 9:20 AM EDT

Andrew McCutchen AP

You can’t predict baseball, but you can at least lay out the parameters. So let’s take a look at what the Pirates and Cardinals have in store for us in the National League Division Series.

The Teams

Pittsburgh Pirates (94-68) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (97-65)

The Matchups

Game 1 Today in St. Louis: A.J. Burnett vs. Adam Wainwright
Game 2 Friday in St. Louis: Gerrit Cole vs. Lance Lynn
Game 3 Sunday in Pittsburgh: Joe Kelly vs. Francisco Liriano
Game 4 (if necessary) Monday in Pittsburgh: Undecided vs. Charlie Morton
Game 5 (if necessary) Wednesday in St. Louis


These teams are certainly no strangers to each other, having battled all year for the NL Central crown. The Pirates won the season series 10-9, but the Cardinals took care of business against their other opponents better than the Pirates did, taking the flag. It did take work, however, as Pittsburgh was in first place much longer than the Cards were, with St. Louis only passing them up for good in mid-September. the Cardinals only passed up Pittsburgh for good in mid-September.

But they are very different in terms of postseason experience. The Cardinals have been in the playoffs ten times in the past 14 years. The Pirates, as you may have heard once or twice, are back in the dance for the first time since 1992. Pittsburgh is the ultimate Cinderella story with a bandwagon of fans which grows by the day. St. Louis, it seems, is being cast as something akin to the Yankees this fall. That overdog team which is in it every year and which people are, quite frankly, getting a bit tired of seeing.

Thing is, though: such a narrative is fun and all, but it’s less than illuminating or explanatory. Only three games separated these two clubs. While most will favor the Cards and root for the Pirates, this series is anything but a mismatch.


  • Each of these teams has a legitimate MVP candidate: Yadier Molina for the Cards and Andrew McCutchen for the Pirates. Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter will likely have some votes thrown his way as well. But McCutchen may be the most likely to dominate in this series. He showed on Tuesday that being a playoff newbie meant little, reaching base in each of his first four plate appearances and scoring once. And he is probably champing at the bit for Game 1 to start: he has a career line of .429/.452/.750 against Adam Wainwright.
  • That said, Wainwright has been dominant in his home park, where he will likely start twice if the series goes five games.  Pirates starter A.J. Burnett, however, is no great shakes on the road and has been blown up in Bush Stadium in the past.
  • The Pirates like to run, especially with Starling Marte and McCutchen. Molina is one of the best in the business at gunning down base runners, however, so if Clint Hurdle is hellbent on making things happen on the base paths he could be in for a rude awakening.
  • The Cardinals have some roster flux: closer Edward Mujica is on the playoff roster but he has lost his closer job after a miserable September. First baseman Allen Craig is off the roster with a sprained foot.  But one of the hallmarks of the Cardinals for the past several years has been team depth. Every time someone leaves the team or goes down there is always someone there to take their place and the team tends to not miss a beat. Here we have Trevor Rosenthal filling in for Mujica, and as we saw in last year’s playoffs, Rosenthal can be dominant. In for Craig: Matt Adams, who did nothing other than hit .284/.335/.503 with 17 home runs in 319 plate appearances in 2013. The Cardinals don’t rebuild, they reload.
  • This series will be worth watching for the fans alone. PNC Park’s rowdiness clearly got the best of the Reds on Tuesday night and you can expect them to be just as crazy when this series gets to Pittsburgh over the weekend. Meanwhile, don’t think for a minute that the Cardinals’ self-proclaimed Best Fans in Baseball didn’t take notice and won’t do their best to amp up the noise a well. Between Cardinal red and Pirate black these games are gonna look more like college football crowds than baseball crowds.


This series will be laden with more narrative storylines than any of the others this postseason, and most of them will put the Pirates in the more positive light. But ultimately, baseball games are decided on talent. While McCutchen is probably the best guy on the field in this series, this is not the NBA and one man can’t carry a team. Overall the Cardinals have the better lineup with fewer holes. They led the NL in on-base percentage, were third in slugging, were historically good hitting with runners in scoring position and led the league in runs scored. Even after Allen Craig went down in early September, the offense did not really miss a beat.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals rotation likely has the edge here too, if for no other reason than the Pirates best starter — Francisco Liriano — was used on Tuesday and will get only one start in this series. The Cardinals’ starters, meanwhile, combined for a 2.36 ERA in September. The Pirates probably have a slight edge in the bullpen and a huge edge in team defense, but I feel like the Cards have way too much firepower.

I’ll pick The Cardinals in Five.

  1. alexb1234 - Oct 3, 2013 at 9:30 AM

    I’m actually a real Pirate from Kenya and the team name Pirates really offends me and it should be changed!!!!

    • cohnjusack - Oct 3, 2013 at 9:35 AM

      Wow, what astounding false equivalency!

      You see, Native Americans are a race of people. A pirate is a criminal profession.

      Here’s an example. Let’s say we have a team called “The New York Jews”, with a logo that is a caricature of a Jewish man, complete with yamaka and large nose. When I express outrage by it, you can’t then point to “Boston Robber Barons” and say that is equally offensive to mechanics. See how different they are?

      • cohnjusack - Oct 3, 2013 at 9:37 AM

        When I express outrage by it, you can’t then point to “Boston Robber Barons” and say that is equally offensive to mechanics.

        That was some astounding autocomplete work there phone. I apparently write about things being offensive to mechanics so often that my phone just adds that in after the “offensive”.

      • alexb1234 - Oct 3, 2013 at 9:49 AM

        The fact that you are using big words would make you think that you are smart enough to understand my point….guess not….dictionary on my friend, dictionary on.

      • zzalapski - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:04 AM

        If you think “equivalency”, “caricature”, and “mechanics” are “big” words, that says more about your argument than his.

      • spudchukar - Oct 3, 2013 at 11:51 AM

        Pretty much what I was thinking ZZ. I guess anything other than monosyllabic babble is “elitist fancy speech”.

    • paperlions - Oct 3, 2013 at 9:59 AM

      Oh then please enlighten us with that point oh might brain stem….because there is no fucking point at all in this false equivalency crap you posted.

      • alexb1234 - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:09 AM

        if you guys were smart enough to realize that Judaism is NOT a race but it is a religion maybe I would explain myself until then….enjoy your day

      • paperlions - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:14 AM

        No, that isn’t it….you apparently don’t realize that races are not the only groups that can be discriminated against or marginalized.

      • spc7ray - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:29 AM

        what about Baseball?

      • spudchukar - Oct 3, 2013 at 11:55 AM

        Hey, Alex, this just in. There is no such thing as race.

      • bh192012 - Oct 3, 2013 at 1:21 PM

        But not pirates. That’s the only group that can’t be discriminated against or marginalized. Yet you wonder why we have global warming?

        (That’s a pastafarian reference by the way. I have no idea if pastafarians are offended by Pittsburgh’s baseball team.)

      • thomas655 - Oct 3, 2013 at 1:58 PM

        I must be in the wrong place. I thought Hardball Talk was about baseball.

    • okwhitefalcon - Oct 3, 2013 at 1:46 PM

      Craig played the “narrative” card – how quaint.

  2. cohnjusack - Oct 3, 2013 at 9:30 AM

    Mike Matheny had the option of Shelby Miller or Michael Wacha in game 3. …and he chose Joe Kelly. This confuses me.

    As a starter, Kelly posted an astounding 2.28 ERA with a 9-3 record. Hooray! But…as we should all know by now, ERA is a much worse indicator of future performance than looking at peripherals (ie, Jake Westbrook’s first two months of the season), and that’s where Kelly starts to look not so hot. 4.8 K/9, 1.35 K/BB, 3.5 BB/9 ratio, 1.333 WHIP. He is a significant downgrade who (fortunately) managed to avoid giving up many runs as a starter. This is no reason to expect this to continue.

    It’s just one game, and hopefully won’t make a difference. But Matheny made a poor choice here.

    • blues1988 - Oct 3, 2013 at 9:46 AM

      disagree. look at kelly’s road numbers vs miller’s road numbers. also kelly went 3-0 with a great era vs the pirates and kelly went 0-4 with a large era. sorry i don’t have the numbers on me, but matheny made the right choice with kelly. miller may not even start game 4, i feel he’s going to go w/ wacha.

    • moogro - Oct 3, 2013 at 9:53 AM

      Probably short leash, with the bullpen dominating after that.

    • spudchukar - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:02 AM

      Disagree vehemently. Kelly has been the Cards most consistent hurler after Wainwright. He also is the one guy outside of Waino who is less likely to blow up on the road. The only reason Lynn gets game #2 is that he is subject to implode in Pittsburgh.

      My prediction. Whoever wins game #1 takes the series.

    • paperlions - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:07 AM

      Kelly’s sample size as a starter over 2 years is creeping up to level that warrant consideration of his possible potential to regularly “beat” the peripherals. He doesn’t seem to give up many hard hit balls, gets lots of balls on the ground, few XBHs…yeah, he seems to put guys on all the time, but hitters seem to do little against him in general, relying on BB and singles to score. Miller has been all over the place the last couple of months…one thing I would not do is start Miller on the Road, to me it was him at home (where he has something like a 1.75 ERA) or nowhere. Kelly seems like a much cooler presence on the mound.

      Anyone seen a list of the actual 25 man roster for the Cardinals?

      • blues1988 - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:19 AM

        not officail but i saw this:

        As for the roster, it is expected to look like this:

        Pitchers (12): Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez, Seth Maness, John Axford, Randy Choate, Edward Mujica

        Position Players (13): Yadier Molina, Tony Cruz, Matt Adams, Matt Carpenter, Pete Kozma, Daniel Descalso, Kolten Wong, David Freese, Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, Carlos Beltran, Shane Robinson, Adron Chambers

      • paperlions - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:38 AM

        WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY too many pitchers for a 5 game series when you only need 3 or 4 starters thanks to the days off….too bad the Cardinals don’t have any more useful bench/platoon players…I am guessing they would have (maybe) gone with 11 pitchers if Craig was healthy…but now they have very limited flexibility off of the bench (about none).

      • spudchukar - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:30 AM

        I couldn’t find it yesterday. But if Blues is correct I can’t get behind Chambers over Freeman.

        As pertains to Kelly. He has even been better in September. Fewer walks. And your assessment of his stuff is spot on. And Miller scares me on the road too, but I’m not sure Wacha is a better decision. Maybe the Cards should think out of the box, and pitch both for 3 innings, Miller’s pitch count usually soars, and Wacha’s lack of a breaking ball might make him more suited for a shorter stint.

      • blacksables - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:37 AM

        Or more simply, watch them pitch. I know that goes against the rules, but there it is.

        Wacha has pitched better than any of them over the last month, and Kelly has been the most consistent through the course of the year. Miller has good numbers, but he’s been erratic.

        Kelly is the right choice. I don’t care what his numbers are.

      • paperlions - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:43 AM

        The problem with the “watch them pitch” approach is that it is impossible for a casual observer (any TV viewer) to disentangle the quality of the pitching from the result….which is why peripherals are far better at predicting what will happen than what already happened is at predicting what will happen.

      • blacksables - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:57 AM

        Well, I (respectfully) disagree.

        I am far more than an casual observer of baseball, and I claim that watching some one pitch (several times) is a way of judging their ability.

        I’m not talking about this year, I’m not talking about next year, and I’m not talking about their careers. In that, you are correct, there are lots of numbers that do that very well.

        However, when it comes to who is going to start game 3, I feel that I am just as qualified as any person or any statistic, be it traditional or sabermeteric, to say Kelly is the right choice due to having them all pitched multiple times.

      • spudchukar - Oct 3, 2013 at 11:19 AM

        Amen Blacksables.

  3. Stiller43 - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:20 AM


    …just stop…youre showing your obvious preteen age, maturity, and intelligence.

    • zzalapski - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:28 AM

      Eh, like other trolls that have come and gone, s/he’ll lose interest and migrate somewhere where the commenters are closer to his/her discourse level.

  4. Nick C - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:23 AM

    “…Pittsburgh was in first place much longer than the Cards were, with St. Louis only passing them up for good in mid-September.”

    Umm…not exactly. Days in first place: Cardinals = 129, Pirates = 56.

    • spudchukar - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:33 AM

      Thanks for doing the research. I was pretty sure that was an incorrect statement.

      • stlouis1baseball - Oct 3, 2013 at 12:48 PM

        That was incorrect…as was that “self-proclaimed” bullshit.

      • spudchukar - Oct 3, 2013 at 12:55 PM

        Yeah, Craig is better than that.

      • paperlions - Oct 3, 2013 at 1:40 PM

        Nah, he’s not better than that…he still says it even though historical evidence shows that it was media outlets that “bestowed” the title, which (unfortunately) was then picked up by the Cardinals themselves and the fans.

        As far as I can tell, the only difference between Cardinal fans (as a group) and many other fan bases (but not all) is that they are more polite and generally facilitate a more friendly family environment than you’ll find at some other parks…and that is only a generality, not an absolute….every fan base has asshats.

      • stlouis1baseball - Oct 3, 2013 at 1:53 PM

        I don’t know that he is better than that Spud. I used to think so…but I am not so sure right now.

      • spudchukar - Oct 3, 2013 at 2:11 PM

        I hear ya. Closet Reds fan perhaps.

    • reaperaf - Oct 3, 2013 at 11:03 AM

      I knew that was wrong in the post and immediately stopped reading the article.

  5. spc7ray - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:32 AM

    Again I think this post is pretty accurate–However If the Pirates can win game #1 They will win the sieries–Beating wainrught witn A J Burnett will be the difference and that is very possible–If the Cards win they will win the sieries

  6. dj8705 - Oct 3, 2013 at 10:41 AM

    Casting the Cardinals as “something akin to the Yankees” is madness. Sure they make the playoffs a lot, but the differences are glaring. St. Louis is no where close to New York in terms of market size. The Cardinals don’t get 1/3 the national media coverage of the Yankees. Cards payroll is $115 million this year per USA Today which is a bit more than 1/2 the usual Yankees payroll and good for 11th in MLB. The closest thing the Cardinals have to a high priced free agent is Matt Holliday who is making $16 million or $2 million less than Hunter Pence just signed for. Most of the rest of the team is home grown.

    If any NL team is akin to the Yankees, it is the Dodgers. Massive payroll – check, gratuitous media coverage – check, multiple high dollar players – check, gigantic media market – check.

    • bravojawja - Oct 3, 2013 at 11:29 AM

      He’s not talking about the payroll. Read closer:

      That overdog team which is in it every year and which people are, quite frankly, getting a bit tired of seeing.

      That sums up the Yankees pretty well, too, don’tchathink?

    • spudchukar - Oct 3, 2013 at 12:00 PM

      If Craig had said, “I get tired of seeing”, I wouldn’t be commenting, but since when is he the spokesman for “the people”.

  7. justinreds - Oct 3, 2013 at 11:05 AM

    I have the drunk Pirates fans over Cardinals players wives in 7 rounds

  8. spudchukar - Oct 3, 2013 at 11:26 AM

    I don’t recall Craig referring to the 1990’s Braves as akin to the Yankees.

    • paperlions - Oct 3, 2013 at 1:59 PM

      Well, of course. The Yankees win stuff.

  9. klownboy - Oct 3, 2013 at 11:49 AM

    Here’s hoping the Pirates beat the Cardinals. I hate St. Louis.

    • spudchukar - Oct 3, 2013 at 11:58 AM

      Witty repartee.

  10. scruffmagee - Oct 3, 2013 at 12:19 PM

    “Cardinals’ self-proclaimed Best Fans in Baseball ”

    Really, Craig? Try not to ignore the players, media, and broadcasters that constantly say it. It’s not the fans that keep it going.

    Personally, I wish the title would die. Or we could give it to the Giants or something. It’s stupid

    • paperlions - Oct 3, 2013 at 2:03 PM

      The fans aren’t helping, and neither are the Cardinals. People in StL didn’t give themselves the title, but on broadcasts you regularly see fans holding up signs touting their awesomeness…and they put it (“Home of the best fans in baseball”) on the scoreboard all the time. I realize the organization is just pandering to their fan base…but…it still doesn’t help the perception.

      • scruffmagee - Oct 3, 2013 at 2:20 PM

        In a stadium of 46k, you’re going to get a few holding signs like that based on the constant harping done by the media, team, and broadcasters. As far as the team pandering to the fans, the Reds did the exact same this season during their fan fest. They had banners posted up everywhere proclaiming the Reds fans as best in baseball.

      • paperlions - Oct 3, 2013 at 2:43 PM

        I realize that…I’m just saying that the fans/org doing it give ammo (and video evidence) for people like Craig that enjoy wielding it as a sarcastic weapon.

  11. joewilliesshnoz - Oct 3, 2013 at 12:46 PM

    Bucs in 4.

    • scruffmagee - Oct 3, 2013 at 1:26 PM

      Cardinals in 4

      Wainwright takes game 1
      Lynn takes game 2
      Liriano takes game 3
      Cardinals TBA (likely Miller) takes game 4

  12. savior72 - Oct 3, 2013 at 12:48 PM


  13. rorear1 - Oct 3, 2013 at 1:36 PM

    Reblogged this on Addicted to Ryan and commented:
    Read this if you are a true Cardinals fan!

  14. notyou0555 - Oct 3, 2013 at 2:26 PM

    cards have been in first almost twice as much as the pirates…before you “preview” a series, you may want to do some research. stop trying to creat a narrative, especially based on stats that are not true.
    and you failed to mention the cards shattered the record for average with RISP this year by almost 30 points. kind of paints a different picture doesn’t it?

    Its ok though, I know you work for NBC, reporting the truth isnt a top priority.

    • kingme30 - Oct 3, 2013 at 2:31 PM

      Notyou0555 is salty as hell

      • notyou0555 - Oct 3, 2013 at 2:39 PM

        correct. Just stinks when writers make things up to create narratives. pretty sad, but not suprising.

  15. missingdiz - Oct 3, 2013 at 2:55 PM

    “The Cardinals have been in the playoffs ten times in the past 14 years.” It’s not just Craig-almost everybody does this, but whatever, I’m tired of it. Fourteen years ago? J.D. Drew was playing CF. Rick Ankiel was still a pitcher. Eric Davis was playing RF and today he’s over fifty. Even four years ago hardly matters. Yes, there are some guys with playoff experience, mainly from last year. But look at all the rookies. Even Matheny, much as I respect him, is unlikely to feel all that comfortable since it’s just his second year on the job.

    It’s not that I don’t appreciate history because I do, but history doesn’t win or lose ballgames. Players who’ve been dead for fifty years are not the cause of the Cubs sucking this year, for instance.

  16. salvomania - Oct 3, 2013 at 3:40 PM

    don’t think for a minute that the Cardinals’ self-proclaimed Best Fans in Baseball didn’t take notice and won’t do their best to amp up the noise a well.

    The only time Cardinal fans put down the nachos and get off their butts to cheer is when there’s a lead with two outs and two strikes in the ninth.

    And then they’ll cheer and clap immediately after something good happens.

    But try to find them making some noise at any other time and you hear crickets.

    It’s one of the most passive ballparks crowds for its size that I see/hear. If it’s the third inning and the Cardinals have runners on 1st and 3rd with a chance to take the lead, listen to how relatively quiet it is in the ballpark: they’re just sitting back, waiting for a reason to have to put down the food and drinks and make some noise.

    • hustleandflomax - Oct 3, 2013 at 7:41 PM

      Maybe we should assault players’ wives and chant the pitcher’s name to earn your respect, salvo?

  17. missingdiz - Oct 3, 2013 at 4:16 PM

    “Even four years ago hardly matters.” Nobody challenged me, so I challenged myself. Of the 42 players listed by Baseball Reference who played for the Cards in 2009, five are going into the playoffs with them this year: Wainwright, Molina, Holliday, Freeze, and Shane Robinson.

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