After dispatching Dusty Baker and the Reds last night, the Pirates head into St. Louis to take on the Cardinals in the NLDS. I won't lie, the Pirates make me nervous, as the Cards were only 9-10 against them this season. However, the Cardinals do have home field advantage and were 6-3 at home against the Buccos. In addition, the Cards have some momentum, having won 4 out of the last 5 games.
Here's a look at the matchups between the two teams:
Catcher: Yadier Molina vs Russ Martin
Molina hit .319/.359/.477 on the year with 12 homers and 89 rbis. He is also considered one of, if not the, best defensive catcher in baseball.
Martin hit .226/.327/.377 with 15 homers and 55 rbis. He is no slouch defensively, throwing out 40% of basestealers (Molina threw out 43%), but he is no Molina either.
Molina is an MVP candidate and is by far the better player.
First Base: Matt Adams vs Justin Morneau
Adams has been on fire since Allen Craig went down with an injury. He hit .283/.335/.503 on the year with 17 homers in just 296 at bats, and turned up the heat in September to the tune of .315/.344/.609 with 8 homers. If he can carryover the late season success into October, he can be a valuable cog in the Cardinals offense.
Morneau is entering the twilight of his career. At 32, he MVP caliber days are gone, but he should not be overlooked either. He hit .259/.323/.411 on the season with 17 homers, but just .260/.370/.312 with no homers after being acquired by the Pirates.
This is a tough call. Adams had a better season, in limited action, but Morneau has more experience in playoff situations. I'll just go with my heart here.
Second Base: Matt Carpenter vs Neil Walker
Carpenter had a stellar year in his first full season with the Cardinals, hitting .318/.392/.481. He led the league with 199 hits, 55 doubles and 126 runs scored. He may not be the best fielding second baseman in the league, but he's at least above average.
Walker had an average season with the Pirates, hitting .251/.339/.418 with 16 homers. He flashed some power in September, hitting 7 homers, but his average suffered (.207 for the month).
This is a pretty easy call, Carpenter is also in the MVP discussion. Walker, while better than average, just doesn't match up.
Shortstop: Daniel Descalso/Pete Kozma vs Jordy Mercer/Clint Barmes
While Kozma and Barmes started off as the starting shortstops for their respective teams, Descalso and Mercer got more starts down the stretch. Kozma (.217/.275/.273) and Barmes (.211/.249/.309) are known more for their defense, while Descalso (.238/.290/.366) and Mercer (.285/.336/.435) were used when their teams were looking for a little more offense.
Neither tandem is very inspiring, but I think the Bucs have a better platoon pair.
Third Base: David Freese vs Pedro Alvarez
Freese is a World Series hero and local boy made good, but his mediocre season (.262/.340/.381) nearly cost him his job. His 9 homers on the year, after hitting 20 last season, also were a disappointment.
Alvarez, on the other hand, set a career mark with 36 home runs, leading the NL, while also driving in 100. However, he strikes out a ton, leading the league with 186 K's, leading to just a .233 average.
Alvarez' power gives him an advantage over hometown hero Freese.
Left Field: Matt Holliday vs Starling Marte
He may be on the wrong side of 30, but Holliday keeps putting up impressive numbers, hitting .300/.389/.490 on the year with 22 homers and 94 rbis.
Marte does not have your typical power for a corner outfielder, hitting just 12 home runs on the year, but he does have a lot of speed, stealing 41 bases. He also hit pretty well in his first full season, with a .280/.343/.441 slash line.
Holliday's bat outweighs Marte's speed and defense, giving him the slight edge.
Center Field: John Jay vs Andrew McCutchen
Jay bounced back from a slow start to finish the season with a .276/.351/.370 line. He doesn't offer much power or speed, but plays solid defense and is a good all around player.
McCutchen is the Pirates MVP candidate, with a .317/.404/.508 line to go along with 21 home runs and 27 stolen bases. He is arguably the best all around player on either team.
Right Field: Carlos Beltran vs Marlon Byrd
Beltran season is a tale of two halves. He hit .309/.346/.533 with 19 home runs in the first half, but just .277/.329/.429 with 5 home runs in the second half, including a .217/.320/.313 line in September. However, he thrives in the postseason, with a career .363/.470/.782 line in the playoffs, including a .357/.440/.714 line last year with the Cardinals.
Byrd had a nice comeback year, hitting .291/.336/.511, including .318/.357/.486 after being acquired from the Mets. His 24 home runs this year are a career high. However, this will be the first postseason of his career.
Beltran experience and reputation for taking it up a notch in October gives him the edge over the likely NL comeback player of the year.
Cardinals projected starters Adam Wainwright (1-0, 3.00 ERA), Lance Lynn (2-1, 5.60), Shelby Miller (0-4, 5.32) and Joe Kelly (3-1, 2.53) have had mixed results against the Pirates. Michael Wacha (1-0, 0.00 ERA in 9 IP) is another option for the Cards. Wainwright and Lynn are scheduled to pitch the first two games against the Bucs, beyond that its anyone's guess as to who goes.
The Pirates have A.J. Burnett (3-1, 3.67 ERA against the Cards) lined up for the first game of the series, with Pedro Liriano (3-0, 0.75 ERA), likely to pitch the third game, after shutting down the Reds last night. Beyond those two, Charlie Morton (0-2, 7.90 ERA), Jeff Locke (1-1, 3.38) and Gerritt Cole (no record) are the other options against the Redbirds.
The good news for Cardinals fans is that the team will only have to face Liriano, who has dominated the Cards this year, once this series. It will also be interesting to see if Clint Hurdle will use Locke against the Cards, who have struggled against lefties all year. Locke has struggled in the second half (2-5, 6.00 ERA) and Hurdle may not trust him in the playoffs.
Another factor may be each team's rookie starters, Wacha and Cole. Both performed well down the stretch and could be given a start. However, managers tend to shy away from rookies in pressure situations.
Overall, this is almost too close to call, but I think I have to give the edge to the Pirates, mainly due to their top 2 starters Liriano and Burnett.
Edward Mujica, who was the Cardinals closer for the majority of the season, was removed from that role in September, due to "general fatigue" (and, as a result, general ineffectiveness). Trevor Rosenthal stepped up and earned 3 saves during the last couple weeks of the season and will likely fill the closer role in the postseason.
Mujica uncertain status, puts pressure on a bullpen that has already seen its share of ups-and-downs this season. Seth Maness has done well in a setup role and the Cardinals have two quality lefties in Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist. Carlos Martinez could be pushed into a setup role as well.
The Pirates had their own injury concerns with their closer, Jason Grilli, after he missed a little over a month with a forearm strain. Mark Melancon filled in admirably in his absence, but their bullpen is much better with Grilli manning the closing duties. The Pirates bullpen also has a couple quality lefties in Justin Wilson and Tony Watson to counter the Cards lefty combo.
Overall, the Pirates bullpen fared better than the Cardinals during the season, posting a 2.89 ERA versus 3.45 for the Cards. That, combined with the uncertainty surrounding Mujica gives the Pirates the edge.
With Allen Craig out, the Cardinals biggest bat off the bench, Matt Adams, has shifted to a starting role, leaving the Cards bench pretty barren. Shane Robinson provides some speed and the Cardinals will also have either Kozma or Descalso on the bench, depending on who's starting. But after that, its unclear who will even make the roster, let alone provide some sort of offense.
The Pirates actually strengthened their bench by acquiring Morneau and Byrd, pushing former starters Garrett Jones and Jose Tabata to reserve roles. Add in Gabby Sanchez and Travis Snider and the Pirates have a good mix of power and speed, as well as lefty/righty on their bench.
The Cardinals will be appearing in their 3rd straight postseason, while the Pirates will be making their first appearance since 1992.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny will be making his second straight postseason appearance, but this is just his second year as a major league manager. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle made the postseason twice with the Rockies and this is his first appearance with the Pirates. Hurdle has 11 years of managerial experience.
Finally, the Cardinals have home field advantage, where they have gone 54-27 this season.
Based on the above, the teams are tied 6-6, indicating that I believe this will be a close series. Basically, I believe the Pirates have a better pitching staff, while the Cards have a better offense. Generally they say that good pitching beats good hitting, but I think that the Cardinals postseason experience and home field advantage will help them edge the Pirates in the end.
PREDICTION: CARDINALS IN 5