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Pittsburgh Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals: NLDS Position by Position Breakdown

Robert KnapelCorrespondent IJanuary 3, 2017

Pittsburgh Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals: NLDS Position by Position Breakdown

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    After defeating the Cincinnati Reds in the Wild Card Play-in Game, the Pittsburgh Pirates will have their first shot at a World Series in 20 years. Meanwhile, their NLDS opponent, the St. Louis Cardinals, will look to repeat the success that they had in 2011, when they were crowned MLB champions.

    Each of these teams has a number of talented players who have helped get them this far. Pittsburgh has advantages at some positions, while St. Louis has advantages at others.

    The following will provide a position by position breakdown of these two teams. When looking at each of these players, 2013 performance, playoff experience and skill will be taken into consideration when determining who has the edge.

Catcher: Russell Martin vs. Yadier Molina

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    Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

    Russell Martin 2013 Stats

    Yadier Molina 2013 Stats

    Both Yadier Molina and Russell Martin played big roles for their respective team's this season. Molina ranked first among catchers with 5.6 fWAR, while Martin posted a very respectable 4.1 fWAR (h/t Fangraphs).

    Molina has consistently looked like an MVP candidate over the past few years and he kept up that level of performance this season. Martin was a great pickup for the Pittsburgh Pirates this season and provided them with some solid pop for their lineup.

    While Martin had a good season, he is simply not at the level of Molina, who is not only one of the best offensive catchers in the game, but arguably the best defensive catcher in baseball.

    Edge: St. Louis Cardinals

First Base: Justin Morneau vs. Matt Adams

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    Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

    Justin Morneau 2013 Stats

    Matt Adams 2013 Stats

    The St. Louis Cardinals have been without starting first baseman Allen Craig since early September and he will not appear for them in the NLDS (h/t Matt Synder of CBS Sports). Instead, the Cardinals will slot Matt Adams into the first base slot during the series. The rookie appeared in 108 games during the regular season and demonstrated good power by hitting 17 home runs.

    In an attempt to bolster their lineup for the stretch run and the postseason, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded for Justin Morneau on August 31st. Morneau struggled a bit with Pittsburgh as he only drove in three runners and failed to hit a home run during his time with the team.

    St. Louis gets the edge here since Adams has been blazing hot since taking over for Craig. In September, he batted .315 with eight home runs.

    Edge: St. Louis Cardinals

Second Base: Neil Walker vs. Matt Carpenter

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    Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

    Neil Walker 2013 Stats

    Matt Carpenter 2013 Stats

    Matt Carpenter has had an outstanding year. He led the National League in hits, runs scored and doubles in 2013. A strong performance in the first half of the year also earned Carpenter a spot on the NL All-Star team.

    Neil Walker has demonstrated good power for a second baseman this season as he slugged 16 home runs on the year. However, he has also struggled to collect hits an only batted .251 this season.

    When comparing the two players, Carpenter's offensive production gives him a big edge.

    Edge: St. Louis Cardinals

Shortstop: Clint Barmes vs. Daniel Descalso

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

    Clint Barmes 2013 Stats

    Daniel Descalso 2013 Stats

    Shortstop is the weakest position on the roster for both the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals. Each team has struggled to get offensive production from that spot this season.

    Daniel Descalso has struggled to get on base this year and has posted a sub-.300 on-base percentage. However, he is an upgrade over previous Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma, who had a 54 OPS+.

    On the other side of things, it appears as if the Bucs will stick with Clint Barmes at short (h/t Tom Singer and Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com). While Barmes has struggled at the dish, his glove has earned him the starting role in the playoffs. If the Pirates need more offense from the position, they can always turn to Jordy Mercer.

    Edge: Pittsburgh Pirates

Third Base: Pedro Alvarez vs. David Freese

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    David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

    Pedro Alvarez 2013 Stats

    David Freese 2013 Stats

    This matchup is one between a player who has taken some big steps back this season and another who has taken some big steps forward.

    In the past, David Freese has been a postseason hero, but if his 2013 regular season is any indication, that will not be the case this year. Freese regressed in almost every category this season and looked nothing like the All-Star that he was last year.

    Pedro Alvarez on the other hand continued to build on his 2012 season and put up strong numbers. While the strikeout total and batting average are not ideal, Alvarez has displayed impressive power and has been a key run producer for the Pirates this year.

    Edge: Pittsburgh Pirates

Left Field: Starling Marte vs. Matt Holliday

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    Starling Marte 2013 Stats

    Matt Holliday 2013 Stats

    Each team's left fielder is a valuable piece of their lineup, but it is for different reasons.

    Matt Holliday is a key run producer for the St. Louis Cardinals. He was second on the team with 94 RBI this season and he hit exactly .300 on the year.

    Starling Marte on the other hand is a table setter for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Marte has been a spark plug at the top of Pittsburgh's lineup and he has demonstrated great speed this season as he has swiped 41 bases. While it is hard to steal bases on Yadier Molina, if Marte can do it, those extra bases will give the Pirates a big edge.

    This is a very close match-up, but the ever so slight edge goes to the Pirates because of Marte's superior defensive abilities. According to Baseball-Reference, Holliday posted a -2.3 dWAR on the year, while Marte was worth 1.8 dWAR.

    Edge: Pittsburgh Pirates

Center Field: Andrew McCutchen vs. Jon Jay

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    Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

    Andrew McCutchen 2013 Stats

    Jon Jay 2013 Stats

    Like a few of the other position breakdowns, the one for center field is a fairly easy choice.

    Jon Jay is a player who goes out there and gets the job done, but he is not even in the same category as Andrew McCutchen.

    McCutchen had a 20/20 season this year while batting .317. He is the best player that the Pittsburgh Pirates have and he will be receiving a number of MVP votes this year.

    Edge: Pittsburgh Pirates

Right Field: Marlon Byrd vs. Carlos Beltran

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    Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

    Marlon Byrd 2013 Stats

    Carlos Beltran 2013 Stats

    Carlos Beltran may not have the same range that he did when he was a Gold Glove winning center fielder, but there are still a number of things to like about his game. Offensively, Beltran has proven that he is still a very solid producer as he has slugged 24 home runs while hitting just under .300 on the year.

    Marlon Byrd had a career year in 2013. He began the year with the New York Mets before being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Like Beltran, he slugged 24 home runs on the year and his batting average was .291.

    Given the fact that these two put up virtually identical numbers on the season, it is safe to call this one a push.

    Edge: Push

Bench

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

    Having both Matt Adams and Daniel Descalso in the team's starting lineup hurts its bench, but it is undoubtedly the best move for the team. With Tony Cruz, Pete Kozma, Kolten Wong, Shane Robinson and Adron Chambers on the team's bench, the St. Louis Cardinals do not have an offensive presence that they can turn to late in games (h/t Belleview News-Democrat).

    Pittsburgh can turn to its bench for offensive production late in games. With Gaby Sanchez, Garrett Jones and Jose Tabata, the Pirates have a few players that they can feel comfortable sending to the plate when they need just a base hit or a home run. Josh Harrison will also be a valuable bench piece as well.

    Edge: Pittsburgh Pirates

Starting Rotation

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    Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

    Starting pitching was a key to success for both the St. Louis Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates as they ranked second and fourth in the National League, respectively (h/t ESPN).

    While the Cardinals are using Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn in the first two games of the series, it is not know which two of the triplet of Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly will be used after Game 2 (h/t Scott Bierman of KMOV). The Cardinals do have an advantage in the fact that Wainwright is the one true ace pitching in the series.

    Pittsburgh will be going with a four-man rotation that features A.J. Burnett, Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton. The Pirates do have the advantage of having more veterans in their rotation with Burnett and Liriano.

    The rotations are fairly close and it is possible to justify choosing either one over the other, but St. Louis gets the edge because of Wainwright and depth.

    Edge: St. Louis Cardinals

Bullpen

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    Being able to maintain a lead once a starter leaves the game is incredibly important in the postseason and the pressure on the bullpen is magnified.

    During the regular season, each team had a number of pitchers in their bullpen who could come in and shutdown opposing hitters.

    For the St. Louis Cardinals, Kevin Siegrist was the star of the bullpen with his 0.45 ERA. He will be joined by Trevor Rosenthal, Randy Choate, Seth Maness, Carlos Martinez, John Axford and the struggling Eduard Mujica. One of the team's regular season starters will also join the pen in the playoffs.

    Pittsburgh's bullpen posted a 2.89 ERA, which was the second-best in the National League during the regular season (h/t ESPN). Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon and Justin Wilson are key cogs in the team's pen and they will be joined by Tony Watson, Vin Mazzaro, Jeanmar Gomez and Bryan Morris.

    Since the Pirates have more faith in the consistency of their bullpen, they get the edge here.

    Edge: Pittsburgh Pirates

Prediction

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    During the regular season, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals squared off 19 times. The teams were fairly evenly matched all year.

    Pittsburgh came away victorious in 10 of the games, even though St. Louis outscored them by a total of 87-85. The teams also finished the year one-two in the National League Central.

    Each team will have opportunities to win this series and it will come down to which one is able to capitalize on their chances. With two evenly matched teams, the bench and bullpen could be the things that decide this series.

    Prediction: Pittsburgh Pirates in Five

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