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October 4, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

NLDS Game Two Preview: Pirates vs. Cardinals

by Ben Carsley

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Pirates (Gerrit Cole) vs. Cardinals (Lance Lynn) – 1:00 p.m. EST
PECOTA Odds of Winning: Cardinals 50.6%. Pirates 49.4%

Pirates vs. Lynn (R)

Cardinals vs. Cole (R)

Starling Marte, LF (R)

Matt Carpenter, 2B (L)

Neil Walker, 2B (S)

Carlos Beltran, RF (S)

Andrew McCutchen, CF (R)

Matt Holiday, LF (R)

Justin Morneau, 1B (L)

Matt Adams, 1B (L)

Marlon Byrd, RF (R)

Yadier Molina, C (R)

Pedro Alvarez, 3B (L)

Jon Jay, CF (L)

Russell Martin, C (R)

David Freese, 3B (R)

Clint Barmes, SS (R)

Daniel Descalso, SS (L)

Gerrit Cole, P (R)

Lance Lynn, P (R)

Unless you’re a Cardinals fan or a Pirates hater, Game One of the NLDS did not live up to the hype.

Fortunately for the rest of us, Game Two’s matchup is nearly as intriguing with former top prospect Gerrit Cole taking on the quietly effective Lance Lynn in a pivotal game for the Pirates.

There’s just a little bit of pressure on Cole heading into this game. The first-overall pick in the 2011 draft, Cole has been billed as the Pirates’ ace of the future since the moment he joined the organization. Now he must face one of the league’s best offenses with his team down 1-0 in the playoffs, and this is said team’s first post-season action in 20 years. Plus, thanks to the giant turd that was Burnett’s start, Cole needs to go deep into the game to prevent further damage to Pittsburgh’s bullpen.

Fortunately, there’s a decent chance that happens for the Pirates. Cole has thrown at least six innings in 14 of his 19 starts this year, and he has thrown at least seven innings six times. He’s put up a 3.22 ERA with a 2.91 FIP in 117.1 innings, with a solid 2.15 BB/9, and a 7.67 K/9 that belies what many scouts believe is his true ability to generate strikeouts. It’s early in Cole’s career, but it’s not hard to see what all the hype is about.

Though Cole has just 19 starts in the majors, you’d probably assume at least one would’ve come against St. Louis, what with them being in the same division and all. But, that is not the case. No one on the Cardinals’ roster has ever faced Cole before, so it will be interesting to see if that plays in the young right-hander’s favor. Righties have actually fared a little better than lefties against Cole this year, and St. Louis’ lineup features five batters who can hit right-handed, if you include Lynn. The sample is small enough, though, that you’d expect Beltran to still hit left-handed.

If nothing else, Cole has the luxury of knowing it’s nearly impossible to do as poorly as Burnett. So that’s something!

Conversely, Lynn will have a difficult time following up the performance of Wainwright, who was spectacular as always in Game One. Lynn had his best season in 2013 by most advanced metrics, posting a 3.28 FIP, 8.84 K/9 and 3.0 WARP in 201.2 innings. His season was up-and-down, though, with strong performances in April and May, ERAs approaching 5.00 in June, July, and August and then a strong finish in September.

Lynn saw his control take a small step back this season, posting a 3.39 BB/9, but this might be somewhat mitigated in Game Two as the Pirates finished just 16th in walks in the regular season, tied with the Giants at 469 free passes.

Lynn has thrown just 412.1 innings during his career, so the sample sizes here are small, but many Pirates have seen their share of success against Lynn. Walker, Alvarez, Garrett Jones and Martin all have OPS marks of above .800 against the right-hander, while Barmes and Marte follow close behind at .770 and 769, respectively. McCutchen has struggled badly, however, hitting .154/.154/.231 in 26 PA.

Jones’ success could lead to him getting the start over Morneau, who has never faced Lynn, or Byrd, who has just six PA against the Cardinals starter. Left-handers had an OBP 51 points higher than righties against Lynn this year, further suggesting Jones could be a prudent choice. Jones started just seven games in September, though, so it’s tough to pencil him in with Pittsburgh’s starting nine.

In terms of the bullpen, it should be all hands on deck for Mike Matheny, with Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal each throwing just one inning each last night. Michael Wacha also figures to be available for the Cards, with Joe Kelly slated to start Game Three and Shelby Miller in line for a Game Four start, if necessary.

For the Pirates, the only real casualty in the pen is Jeanmar Gomez, who threw four innings in cleaning up Burnett’s mess. Vin Mazzaro and Bryan Morris threw just one inning each as well, meaning they should be available.

PECOTA calls this one about as even as can be, with the Cardinals edging out the Pirates ever so slightly in its estimation. It may look tough to bet against St. Louis after last night’s performance, but with the Pirates’ history of success against Lynn and with Cole’s upside, Pittsburgh has a good shot at evening this series at one game a piece.

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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