Pittsburgh Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals: Keys to Each Team Taking NLDS Game 5
This is it. It's Game 5 of the NLDS. The winner goes on to face the Dodgers in the NLCS, while the loser goes home wondering what might have been.
There's no doubt Game 5 will be tight and that both managers will be pulling out all the stops.
St. Louis is sending Adam Wainwright (19-9, 2.94 ERA) to the hill, while the Pirates will counter with Gerrit Cole (10-7, 3.22 ERA). Wainwright was dominant in a Game 1 win, while Cole was the same in Game 2.
So, who will come out on top?
While we're not sure of that yet, here are a few keys for each team to ensure they come out of Wednesday's game with a win.
Note: All stats obtained from baseball-reference.com, unless otherwise noted.
Cardinals' Key: Adam Wainwright Dominating with the Curveball
In a Game 1 win where he went seven innings and struck out nine, Wainwright dominated with his curveball. He controlled the pitch all night, which helped keep the Pirates down.
According to Brooksbaseball.net, the Pirates were no match for Wainwright's curveball:
|Balls in Play:||15.15%|
When looking at the numbers, you see that when Wainwright got hitters to swing, they were missing half of the time.
The most telling stat is that Pittsburgh hitters didn't get a hit off his curveball.
Compare that to his four-seam fastball in which the Pirates had an average of .286 against.
As long as Wainwright uses his curve like he did in Game 1, the Pirates will be off-balance and have trouble getting anything off the pitch.
Pirates' Key: Gerrit Cole Needs to Throw More Strikes
Gerrit Cole threw six innings and gave up only one run in Game 2. However, his strike percentage was only 65 percent on 85 pitches.
According to Brooksbaseball.net, the fastball was the only pitch the Cardinals did anything with (.333 average), but his trouble throwing strikes likely resulted in him going only six innings.
It has to be mentioned that Cole gave up only one walk and two hits, but is that something that can be expected in a Game 5 situation?
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle seems far from concerned (h/t to the Los Angeles Times) about Cole starting in such a pressure-packed moment:
What we have seen since Gerrit has been here has been a young man that continues to improve. The competitive edge that he takes on the mound is visible. The emotion that he pitches with … that's special and that can be significant. He respects everything. He fears nothing.
Cole ended up in full counts seven times and came out having thrown ball four only once. Getting into full counts is something he has to avoid, and the best way to do that is to get ahead in the count.
Cardinals' Key: Score Runs Early
Outside of the third inning in Game 1, the Cardinals have struggled to score runs early in the game. In Game 2-4, the Cardinals have scored no runs in the first four innings.
Here's a look at the number of runs each team has scored in Game 2-4:
Granted, the Cardinals have scored only six runs in the last three games, but they can't wait for later innings to do damage.
They have to score runs early and allow Wainwright the ability to relax. He may have already had a dominant performance in this series, but he is better off when his team can score seven runs in the third inning.
If St. Louis can score runs early, Wainwright will have the advantage and is more likely to have success.
|Runs of Support||AB||BAA||HR||R||SO|
The bottom line is, when the Cardinals give Wainwright three or more runs of support, he's almost unstoppable.
Pirates' Key: Starling Marte Has to Get on Base
Starling Marte has to get on base at the top of the order for the Pirates.
In the Division Series, Marte is 1-for-15, with his only hit being a solo home run in Game 2. In regular-season games where Marte started and got at least one hit, the Pirates were 55-32. When he started and failed to get a hit, the Pirates were 17-17.
The fact that the Pirates were 23 games above .500 when he got a hit gives them a definite advantage.
The Pirates have won one game this series when he didn't get a hit, but they've struggled when he hasn't.
You can say Wainwright in Game 1 and Michael Wacha in Game 4 were lights-out and nobody was hitting off them. But when your leadoff hitter does, that sets the tone for the rest of the team.
Cardinals' Key: Matt Carpenter Has to Get on Base
As the leadoff hitter during the regular season, Carpenter had an average of .323 with nine home runs and 69 RBI. In the NLDS, he is batting 1-for-15 when he leads off.
Like Marte, Carpenter has to get on base at the top of the order. For guys like Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday to do their jobs, Carpenter has to do his.
As a left-handed batter against right-handed pitching (which Cole is), Carpenter is batting .329 with seven home runs and 56 RBI.
He has to recapture that magic he had in the regular season and get the Cardinals going. If he can, and does so early, the Cardinals should be able to capitalize.
When Carpenter doesn't get on base, that means Beltran and Holliday have to have more success.
Beltran is batting .296 with nine home runs and 69 RBI when runners are on, while he has the same average with 15 home runs with none on. Holliday, meanwhile, has a .357 average with 13 home runs and 85 RBI with men on, while batting .250 with nine home runs with none on.
It's more so for Holliday, but when Carpenter gets on, those behind him will be able to do their damage.
Pirates' Key: Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd
There's a reason why the Pirates acquired Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd for a playoff run. Both are savvy veterans who have continually proved they could get the job done. Now, they need to help the Pirates in the postseason.
I don't find it ironic that Byrd has gone 0-for-3 in each of the Pirates' losses. In their three playoff wins (including the wild-card win over the Reds), Byrd is 5-for-12 with one home run and five RBI. He has to perform just as well in Game 5 if the Pirates are going to win.
Morneau has gone 5-for-20 in the playoffs with no RBI. The Pirates have been able to get to this point without him driving in runs, but they need him to do so in this game.
If he can get on base (at the very least), that sets up Byrd and Pedro Alvarez to do some damage. Alvarez has three home runs in the series, but two of them were of the solo variety.
Imagine what would happen if Alvarez came up with Morneau and Byrd on base.