Pirates vs. Cardinals: 5 Things Learned from the Recent Series

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Pirates vs. Cardinals: 5 Things Learned from the Recent Series
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Pirates recently concluded what could be their biggest series of the season, a five-gamer against the division-leading, or formerly division-leading, St. Louis Cardinals.

Here are a few things we learned from it:

 

The Cardinals are beatable, and the Pirates can beat them 

All right, that last game of the series wasn't so great. But a team can only lose one game at a time. In the final analysis, a 13-0 loss is no worse than a 3-0 loss. As for the series as a whole, it featured a 4-1 split for an .800 percentage. Against say, the Houston Astros, that would have been a satisfying result.

Against the Cardinals, it was awesome.

The Pirates now lead the season series 7-3 and are heavy favorites to win it. Even if they do as poorly as 3-6 over the remaining nine games, they would edge out the Cardinals 10-9 in 2013.

Only a handful of other teams have a lead on the Cardinals in the season series, and none as convincingly as the Pirates. They are the Los Angeles Angels, Oakland A's and Texas Rangers in the American League, and the Atlanta Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League.

Their record vs. other teams in the National League Central? The Cardinals are 8-2 against the Milwaukee Brewers, 7-4 against the Cincinnati Reds and 6-4 against the Chicago Cubs. The importance of these series is tied to the fact that...

 

Games against division rivals count for double

That's because your win is automatically the other team's loss (and vice versa). There is no "balance" by your winning (or losing), and the other team doing the same. Coming into PNC Park 1.5 games behind the Cardinals, the three net wins (4-1) meant the the Pirates led by 1.5 games coming out of the series.

 

The Pirates are good in close games

In the first, third and fifth games, one side or the other won decisively, with scores of 9-2, 6-0 and 13-0, with the Pirates winning two out of three. But the second game was tied at the end of nine, with the home team scoring an extra run in an 11th inning walk-off. And in the fourth game, the Pirates came from behind (never more than one down at the end of an inning) to win 5-4.

 

Pitching is the key

The Cardinals have arguably the best offense in the majors.

The Pirates responded by having arguably the best rotation. When the irresistible force met the immovable object... the Pirates won the first three games because pitching limited the Cardinals' hitting to two, one and zero runs in those games.

The fourth game was "in play" because the Cardinals scored only four runs, with the bullpen shutting them down for five innings, after an uncharacteristically "unlucky" four-inning start by Jeff Locke. He gave up no home runs and only one walk, and struck out six—meaning that 10 out of 16 "contacted" balls (a disproportionate number) went for hits on his watch.

 

The Pirates are good at identifying good pitchers

Neal Huntington signed the supposedly "injured" Francisco Liriano to a contract prior to one of the best years of his career. Before the 2012 season, Huntington also took a "reject" named A.J. Burnett off the hands of the Yankees.

The best game was started by Brandon Cumpton, a ninth-round pick in the 2010 draft who has been a relative unknown until now. But he won't be a pitcher who is unheard of for much longer.

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