5 Things the St. Louis Cardinals Need to Do to Avoid Elimination
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Three games into the 2013 National League Division Series, the St. Louis Cardinals find themselves on the wrong end of a 2-1 series with the Pittsburgh Pirates. As Game 4 kicks off tonight in Pittsburgh, here are 5 things the Cardinals need to key in on to avoid postseason elimination at the hands of their division rivals.
All statistics courtesy of ESPN.com, unless otherwise sourced.
Establish the Leadoff Spot with Matt Carpenter
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Matt Carpenter, the regular season league leader in hits, doubles and runs scored, has yet to make a difference in the postseason. Through three games, he's hit safely just once and has an OPS of .322.
In order for the Cardinals to come away with a win tonight, they'll need Carpenter to step it up at the top of the order. His production from the leadoff spot is a key cog in this offense.
Avoid the Ground Ball at All Costs
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During regular season, the Pirates ranked fourth in the NL in defensive efficiency, a metric that gauges how well a team converts outs. A large majority of their success in the field is a result of their ability to induce ground balls. The team forced ground balls at a league-best 52.5 percent rate.
The Cardinals need to avoid being suckered into weak grounders as best as they can. By putting the barrel of the bat on the ball more frequently, the Cardinals will avoid catering to the Pirates' greatest strengths.
Convert Double Plays to Get out of Jams
The Cardinals middle infield duo, Matt Carpenter and Pete Kozma, were among the league's best in converting double plays.
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The calling card for the Cardinals defense this season has been its ability to turn double plays. The team led the NL in double plays during the regular season with 177, which was more than 30 greater than league average.
However, they've been slightly less successful this series, turning only three of them through the first three games.
Look for the team to convert a few double plays tonight, especially with rookie Michael Wacha on the mound. He was one of the Cardinals' better ground-ball pitchers this season.
Let Wacha Work His Magic
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2012 first-round pick Michael Wacha has been lights-out this season during his rookie campaign.
The last time he took the mound, he was one out away from a no-hitter. Through nine starts, the righty has averaged better than a strikeout per inning pitched and sports an impressive 2.78 ERA. And with only 64.2 innings logged this season, the team doesn't yet have to worry about potential fatigue.
The kid has shown he can pitch with the best of them, and if this start goes anything like his last, the Cardinals are going to be in pretty good shape.
Utilize All Options Available with the Bullpen
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The Cardinals bullpen is one of the deepest in the league: They had seven different relief pitchers sport a sub-3.00 ERA during the regular season. In addition, Rookie of the Year candidate Shelby Miller will be available in a relief role during the postseason.
So far this series, the Cardinals have received one scoreless inning or more in relief from five different players: Kevin Siegrist, John Axford, Seth Manness, Edward Mujica, and closer Trevor Rosenthal.
Manager Mike Matheny does well to mix in his different options, from more control-oriented pitchers like Siegrist and Mujica to fire-throwers like Axford and Rosenthal. With such a diverse group of talented arms available, this Cardinals bullpen can hold down a lead as well as anyone.