The Cardinals come in as winners of the NL Central while the Pirates are fresh off their win over the Cincinnati Reds in their one-game playoff for a wild-card berth.
The Pirates took 10 of 19 games from the Cardinals this season, showing just how close it has been between these teams all year. But make no mistake about it, both are done celebrating their recent victories and are focused on the first game of the series in St. Louis.
Let's take a look at three keys for each team in Game 1.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all stats obtained from Baseball-reference.com.
A.J. Burnett's record may not look good at 10-11, but Burnett does have a 3.30 ERA and 209 strikeouts on the season.
Burnett has also had a lot of success against the Cardinals this year, going 3-1 with a 3.67 ERA in 34.1 innings. The Cardinals hit .213 off of him. Only Matt Carpenter and Carlos Beltran—who both hit .357 against him—have had any real success for St. Louis in facing Burnett.
The righty can make a huge difference in Game 1 by keeping Carpenter off the basepaths for guys like Beltran and Matt Holliday. The Cardinals are 19-23 in games where Carpenter doesn't get a hit, while going 74-41 in games where he did get a hit.
Here's a look at what Burnett has done this season against the probable St. Louis lineup for Game 1:
- Matt Carpenter (5-for-14, 1 double, 2 triples, 1 RBI, 3 BB, 1 SO)
- Carlos Beltran (5-for-14, 2 doubles, 3 RBI, 2 SO)
- Matt Holliday (3-for-16, 2 doubles, 3 RBI, 1 BB, 7 SO)
- Matt Adams (1-for-9, 4 SO)
- Yadier Molina (1-for-13, 1 double)
- David Freese (1-for-6, 1 double, 4 SO)
- Jon Jay (4-for-15, 2 doubles, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 6 SO)
- Daniel Descalso (2-for-10, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 2 SO
Outside of the top two in the order, Burnett has had relatively good success against the rest of the Cardinals' lineup. If he can keep either Carpenter or Beltran off the basepaths, that could be the key in lifting the Pirates to a win.
The biggest loss for the Cardinals this season was that of Allen Craig when he injured his left foot. Although there is hope that he can return by the NLCS if the Cardinals advance, the fact remains that Matt Adams has a huge role to fill for St. Louis.
Adams will bat in the cleanup spot and will be playing in his first career playoff game.
He has proven that he can do well, batting .284 with 17 home runs and 51 RBI. Here's how he breaks down at home and against the Pirates this year:
|vs. Pirates||12||.133||.212||.345||0 (0)||0||3/9|
|at Home||59||.289||.337||.870||17 (10)||29||11/42|
The numbers look good at home, but Adams has been abysmal against the Pirates. Add in the fact that he's facing A.J. Burnett, who he is 1-for-9 against with four strikeouts this year, and Adams is going to have to find another gear in the playoffs. The Cardinals simply can't afford their cleanup hitter to not show up in the all-important Game 1.
With Matt Carpenter, Jon Jay and Carlos Beltran all being left-handed hitters, you figure Tony Watson and Justin Wilson could play a part in the outcome of Game 1 for the Pirates.
Depending on how long Burnett goes into the game, and where the Cardinals are at in the order, Watson and/or Wilson could be called on to take care of those lefties.
Shin-Soo Choo got to Watson in the one-game playoff against the Reds, hitting a home run off of him. But for the most part, these two have taken care of lefties when called upon:
In short, they've done well against lefties. In a close game, they will be called upon again to get the tough outs.
There's a reason why Adam Wainwright is getting the ball in Game 1 for St. Louis.
Had it not been for the dominating performance by Clayton Kershaw this year, Wainwright very likely would have been in the Cy Young Award discussion. He has gone 19-9 with a 2.94 ERA and 219 strikeouts.
Against the Pirates, Wainwright is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in 21 innings this year.
Here's what the Pirates lineup has done against Wainwright:
- Starling Marte (1-for-6, 1 BB, 3 SO)
- Neil Walker (2-for-9, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 SO)
- Andrew McCutchen (3-for-7, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 BB, 3 SO)
- Justin Morneau (0-for-2, 1 BB, 2 SO)
- Marlon Byrd (1-for-6, 4 SO)
- Pedro Alvarez (1-for-8, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 3 SO)
- Russell Martin (1-for-6, 2 BB, 3 SO)
- Jordy Mercer (2-for-3, 1 HR, 1 RBI)
Wainwright has had his way, for the most part, with the Pirates and he's going to be expected to do so again.
He also has a 2.53 ERA at home and four complete games. For Cardinals fans, there's not much more you can ask out of your ace.
The Pirates are riding a huge wave of emotion after beating the Reds for their first playoff win since 1992. It's been a long time coming for Pittsburgh and is something the Pirates need to take advantage of in the NLDS.
From the outset of Tuesday night's game, the Pirates owned the Reds. They are going to have to do the same thing against the Cardinals. The only difference is, the game will be in St. Louis and not in Pittsburgh.
Pirates players like Russell Martin and Marlon Byrd have all the confidence in the world after combining to go 5-for-8 with three home runs and four RBI to beat the Reds. Add in the dominant pitching performance by Francisco Liriano and you can see that the Pirates are sitting on cloud nine.
They have an MVP candidate in Andrew McCutchen, who has been playing MVP-caliber ball as of late (.318 BA, 4 HR, 10 RBI in September). They also have a pitcher in A.J. Burnett who has owned the Cardinals this year.
Everything is in place for the Pirates to win Game 1. All they have to do is go out and execute on Thursday night.
With the exception of a few players, the biggest thing the Cardinals have going for them in the NLDS is playoff experience.
They won it all in 2011 and came within a game of reaching the World Series last season, so they know what is expected of them and how to win.
They have an ace arm in Adam Wainwright and a lineup that is batting .269 and slugging .401. They've been getting it done all year, especially as of late, winning 17 of their final 22 games.
St. Louis is hot right now and has the players in place to stop the Pirates. The only question is whether their experience can outweigh the emotion of the Pirates. If so, Game 1 will belong to the Cardinals.