NLDS 2013: Step-by-Step Guide for Pittsburgh Pirates to Win the Series
Pittsburgh won the season series 10-9. However, the Cardinals made a late-season surge to win the NL Central and the top seed in the NL. Despite losing the season series, the Cardinals will have home-field advantage in the NLDS.
It will be an intense clash. The Pirates just beat their top rival in the Wild Card Game on Tuesday night, but the Cardinals are a close second. There's no love lost between the two clubs, so expect the players to leave everything on the field.
Below are the keys to the NLDS for the Pirates.
Pitching, pitching, pitching
Nobody would ever say that the Pirates rely on offense, so the pitching staff has to be dominant in order for the team to advance. When looking at the lineups, the Cardinals easily have the edge. It's going to be up to Pittsburgh's pitching to neutralize St. Louis' explosive lineup.
Francisco Liriano won't be available until at least Game 3 on Sunday. That will put him back at PNC Park, where he is 9-1 in 12 starts this year.
A.J. Burnett and Gerrit Cole will likely take the hill in the first two games, and both are capable of dominating a lineup with strikeouts. They will need to set the tone early in order to give their offense a chance to take the lead. Pittsburgh's 3.40 ERA in the first six innings ranked second in baseball.
Starting strong on the mound makes it tough for the opponent to get any momentum. Liriano took the Cincinnati Reds out of the game right away by retiring the first nine batters on Tuesday.
When the starters hand a lead over to the bullpen, Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli are both capable of shutting teams down. The two combined for 49 saves and led Pittsburgh to the major's third-best bullpen ERA.
In the seventh inning or later, the Pirates had the fourth-lowest ERA in all of baseball. The starters have been good, but the bullpen has been even better. The pitching staff will be tested against the NL's deepest lineup.
Production throughout the lineup
St. Louis will focus on limiting Andrew McCutchen. With the best hitter in the lineup being taken out of the mix, the hitters behind him will have to step up.
Pittsburgh had the fourth-worst average with runners in scoring position, which was an area that St. Louis shattered the all-time record. In order to keep up with the Cardinals, players like Justin Morneau and Pedro Alvarez will need to make their presence felt.
Morneau has hit only .260 since joining the team in the middle of the season. He has yet to hit a homer and has only three RBI. He is hitting right behind McCutchen, so teams aren't afraid to pitch around the superstar to get to Morneau.
Will the Pirates' offense be able to keep up with the Cardinals?
Alvarez is an interesting case. He tied for the NL lead with 36 home runs and added 100 RBI, but he hit only .233 with a .296 on-base percentage. The third baseman led the NL in strikeouts, so he will kill rallies by failing to move runners over.
Marlon Byrd continues to be productive. He clubbed a solo shot in the second inning to put the Pirates ahead on Tuesday.
Catcher Russell Martin hit only .226 in the regular season, but he was still productive. The veteran had a .327 OBP with 15 home runs and 55 RBI. He added two home runs in the Wild Card game. If he continues to swing a hot bat, the Pirates will be tough to beat. Any contributions on offense will be a bonus as Martin was signed to be a leader in the field.
The Pirates got a slash line of .236/.283/.347 out of their shortstops this year. Clint Barmes figures to get the majority of the playing time because of his defense. His offensive struggles, which includes a .211 average and only 23 RBI, are one of the biggest things holding this team back.
St. Louis' rotation ranked second in the majors in ERA, so Pittsburgh's hitters will be challenged.
After making a few big acquisitions in the middle of the season, the Pirates need everything to come together in October.
Steal a road victory
When playing at PNC Park, the Pirates are tough to beat. They won 50 home games in 2013, which ranked third in the NL. With home-field advantage in the Wild Card Game, they jumped out to an early lead and were unbeatable from the second inning on.
Pittsburgh's 44 wins were the second-most in the NL. However, St. Louis ranked second in baseball with 54 home wins. The Cardinals are tough to beat at Busch Stadium.
What will the series look like as the teams head to Pittsburgh?
The Pirates went 7-3 against the Cardinals at PNC Park, including five straight wins at one point. It was a different story on the road. The Cardinals won six of the nine meetings, including the last five of the final six, in St. Louis.
Despite winning the season series, Pittsburgh lost the final four meetings. The Cardinals have confidence heading into this series, and they will start out at home.
With the first two games in St. Louis, it will be crucial for the Pirates to earn at least a split on the road. Going back with the series tied 1-1 would give the Pirates the opportunity to close out the Cardinals in Pittsburgh. However, losing the first two games would put the Pirates in a big hole. They'd have to win three straight, including Game 5 in St. Louis.
Burnett struggled in his last start at Busch Stadium, and Cole has yet to face the Cardinals. The Pirates need at least one of them to steal a victory in order to take some of the pressure off as the series shifts to Pittsburgh.
All stats are courtesy of MLB.com
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