Cardinals vs. Pirates: Keys to Each Team Winning NLDS Game 3

Zak SchmollAnalyst IOctober 6, 2013

Cardinals vs. Pirates: Keys to Each Team Winning NLDS Game 3

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    The St. Louis Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates seem to be relatively well-matched after the first two games of the NLDS. Each team has won a game by a decisive margin. In the game that each team won, their pitching looked excellent.

    Even if we go back to the regular season, the results are rather evenly matched. Pittsburgh won the season series 10-9, but St. Louis did better overall and ultimately won the division.

    Game 3 will obviously put one team within nine innings of moving on to the next round of the playoffs, so it is vitally important.

    Here are three things that are vital to each team as they prepare for this decisive matchup.

St. Louis Cardinals Key No. 1: The Bullpen Needs to Hold Up

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    Joe Kelly is pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals in this game, and it is important to remember that at the beginning of the season he was a relief pitcher.

    He has gone at least five innings in every start since he transitioned to the rotation full-time on June 21, but he has never gone more than seven innings. As a result, the St. Louis bullpen is most likely going to play a significant role in this contest.

    It has been strong for most of the year, and it wants to continue that performance in this third game.

Pittsburgh Pirates Key No. 1: Keep the Score Low

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    If you look at the 19 times that the Pittsburgh Pirates played the St. Louis Cardinals during the regular season as well as the two times they have already played in the postseason, it is pretty obvious that whenever the scores start climbing, St. Louis almost always wins.

    In eight of its 10 wins, Pittsburgh was able to hold St. Louis to two runs or less, and if both teams started to get into a kind of shootout, St. Louis tended to prevail.

    Francisco Liriano will need to make sure that does not happen.

St. Louis Cardinals Key No. 2: Control the Top of the Lineup

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    When the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 1, Adam Wainwright was able to hold Starling Marte and Neil Walker off of the bases all night. Even though Andrew McCutchen did get two hits, they really did not mean too much because the bases were empty.

    In this game, McCutchen will probably make some noise again, but without men on base, he will certainly be reduced in his impact.

    The Cardinals have the pitching to shut down the Pirates, and those two men are vital.

Pittsburgh Pirates Key No. 2: Keep the Errors Down

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    Obviously, Game 1 was not ideal for a variety of reasons if you’re a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, but the three errors did not help matters at all. On one level, even if you take away the unearned runs, the score still would have been 7-1. But there are plenty of games where two runs would make a major difference.

    Pittsburgh did commit the ninth most errors in baseball over the regular season, so it is not too surprising to see this as a potential problem.

    Nevertheless, the Pirates need to do better in that respect. In this situation, unearned runs can even come back to hurt worse than usual.

St. Louis Cardinals Key No. 3: Hit the Ball

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    I know that the title seems overly simplified, but if you look at season averages, St. Louis averaged 4.8 runs per game as opposed to 3.9 for the Pittsburgh Pirates. As much as I said that the Pittsburgh Pirates need to keep the score down, St. Louis really needs to hit the ball.

    Joe Kelly is a great pitcher, but if it does develop into some kind of a slugfest, St. Louis would definitely be the favorite.

    Its offense is powered by Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday and many others. I really don’t think that Pittsburgh has the firepower to keep up with the Cardinals if they can begin to get to Francisco Liriano and the entire pitching staff.

Pittsburgh Pirates Key No. 3: Hope for the Heart of the Lineup to Stay Hot

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    Andrew McCutchen has been producing pretty well all season, and Justin Morneau is a former MVP. Marlon Byrd was a nice acquisition during the season, and he also has the potential to be a solid run-producer.

    I previously wrote that the Cardinals need to shut down the top of the lineup to slow down Andrew McCutchen and his run-creating ability. This kind of goes hand-in-hand with that. If all three of these men are producing, then if and when McCutchen gets on base, someone else will be able to drive him in.

    Pittsburgh has been great at pitching all season, and if its offense ultimately comes through, it will certainly put it in a better position to take this tie-breaking game.

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