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October 7, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

NLDS Game Four Preview: Cardinals at PIrates

by Ben Carsley

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Cardinals (Michael Wacha) vs. Pirates (Charlie Morton) – 3:00 p.m. ET
PECOTA Odds of Winning: Cardinals 65.2% , Pirates 34.8%

Cardinals vs. Morton (R)

Pirates vs. Wacha (R)

Matt Carpenter, 2B (L)

Starling Marte, LF (R)

Carlos Beltran, RF (S)

Neil Walker, 2B (S)

Matt Holiday, LF (R)

Andrew McCutchen, CF (R)

Matt Adams, 1B (L)

Justin Morneau, 1B (L)

Yadier Molina, C (R)

Marlon Byrd, RF (R)

Jon Jay, CF (L)

Pedro Alvarez, 3B (L)

David Freese, 3B (R)

Russell Martin, C (R)

Daniel Descalso, SS (L)

Clint Barmes, SS (R)

Michael Wacha, P (R)

Charlie Morton, P (R)

And just like that, the Pirates have gone from lovable underdogs to NLDS favorites.

Riding the backs of a strong performance from Gerrit Cole and the offense in Game Two and a decent performance by Francisco Liriano and the offense in Game Three, the Pirates find themselves up two games to one on the rival Cardinals. Pittsburgh will turn to the reinvented Charlie Morton to send them to the next level, while the Cardinals will counter with rookie Michael Wacha as they try to keep their season alive.

Given the plethora of talented young arms on the Cardinals’ roster, it’s somewhat fitting that their 2013 season rests on the shoulders of one of their less heralded prospects. Wacha has generally been viewed as the Robin to Shelby Miller’s Batman, but Mike Matheny has elected to have the Texas A&M star start Game Four.

Wacha has thrown all of 64.2 innings and made just nine starts in the majors, so the sample sizes against him are of course small. That being said, he’s performed well against the Pirates to this point, allowing no earned runs through nine innings. Byrd, Walker, Morneau and Alvarez have yet to record a hit against Wacha, while Martin, Marte and Barmes have yet to face him. McCutchen and Mercer each have one hit against Wacha, for whatever that is worth.

Strangely, Wacha has shown a reverse platoon split to this point in the majors, giving up a .236 average to righties and a .197 mark to southpaws. That could work out in favor of the Pirates, who have a right-handed heavy lineup.

And Pittsburgh will need whatever offensive advantage they can muster today, because odds are, Morton is going to give up some runs.

That may seem like a bold statement at first. Morton, who’s endured his fair share of snickering after retrooling his mechanics to match Roy Halladay’s, had a decent year in 2013. The 29-year-old righty posted a 3.26 ERA with a 3.57 ERA, 6.6 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, and very strong 65 percent ground-ball rate.

So why does PECOTA have the Cardinals as two-to-one favorites to take this game? It’s pretty simple: St. Louis has owned Charlie Morton.

No. 8 hitter Descalso is 0-for-10 with three walks in his career against Morton, but that’s the only place Morton is likely to find any relief against this lineup.

Carpenter, Jay and Beltran have each reached base at least half the times they’ve faced Morton. Holliday’s line against the righty sits at .320/.346/.340, while Freese is at .294/.368/.471 and Molina at .421/.421/.623. And don’t think those numbers are solely from before Morton became the pitcher he is today. In two starts against the Cards this year, Morton has given up 10 earned runs in 7.2 innings.

At least the Pirates will miss Allen Craig in this game. The first baseman has posted a ridiculous 1.202 OPS against Morton in his career, and is 9-for-18 with four walks in 22 plate appearances against Pittsburgh’s sinkerballer. His replacement, Matt Adams, is 0-for-1.

As far as bullpens go, you’d assume it’s all hands on deck for both teams given the situation. Pittsburgh’s seventh, eighth and ninth inning regulars all worked yesterday, but each threw just one inning. For the Cardinals, Carlos Martinez figures to not get any high leverage work today, but everyone else should be available.

My prediction: As the Red Sox—Rays series has shown us with the beatings given to Matt Moore and David Price, past success is certainly no guarantee of future success against MLB hitters. That being said, it’s hard to side against PECOTA and the Cardinals on this one.

Look for the Cards to take this one back home, and for Pittsburgh to have to beat Adam Wainwright to continue its comeback season.

Ben Carsley is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

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