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October 9, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

NLDS Game Five Preview: Pirates at Cardinals

by Ben Carsley

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Pirates (Gerrit Cole) vs. Cardinals (Adam Wainwright) – 8:00 p.m. EST
PECOTA Odds of Winning: Cardinals 65.1%, Pirates 34.0%

Pirates vs. Wainwright (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)

Adam Wainwright, P (R)

This is about as good as it gets.

After a total of 23 games between the Cardinals and Pirates this season, St. Louis has 11 victories, while Pittsburgh has 12. Game One of this NLDS saw the Cardinals ride their best pitcher, Adam Wainwright, to a convincing victory. The Pirates returned the favor behind Gerrit Cole in Game Two.

After more evenly matched outings in Games Three and Four, we get to witness the Cardinals and Pirates duke it out one more time in 2013, and each team will be putting its best foot forward on the mound.

If you’re looking for another game that can stand up to the Justin Verlander, Sonny Gray duel that took place in Oakland last week, this might be the closest we’ll get.

Pittsburgh’s lineup was at Wainwright’s mercy in the first game of the series. The Cardinals’ ace threw seven innings of one-run ball with nine strikeouts and no walks, yielding only a solo homerun to Pedro Alvarez. That was one of just three hits Wainwright allowed on the day, as the right-hander continued his dominant season.

Several of the players in Pittsburgh’s starting lineup have actually had their fair share of success against Wainwright in the past. McCutchen has posted an OPS of 1.151 against the righty in 34 PA, and Walker, Martin and Barmes have fared well, too. Morneau and Marte haven’t had much luck in very small samples, while Alvarez has historically had some trouble with Wainwright, his homer in Game One notwithstanding. Still, it’s tough to bet against Wainwright and his 2.55 regular season FIP, even with the massive workload he’s taken on this season.

The Pirates’ best hope to advance to the NLCS may come not from their offense but from the right arm of Cole, whom Pittsburgh is entrusting with this elimination game instead of A.J. Burnett.

The technical term for what Cole did in his first start in Game Two of this series is “shove.” The rookie threw six innings of one-run ball with five strikeouts and one walk in his first postseason start ever. Just like how Wainwright was victimized by a solo homer in his stellar start, Cole’s only blemish came courtesy of a solo shot from Yadier Molina.

Cole’s start on Friday was his first against the Cardinals, so there’s no point in rehashing who’s hit him well and who hasn’t. However, through this point in the playoffs, Beltran is the only Cardinal with an OPS in excess of .800, which illustrates how good Pittsburgh has been at shutting down baseball’s third-best offense during the regular season.

Perhaps the only knock on Cole to this point in his career is that he doesn’t go deep into games—none of his starts have surpassed 7 1/3 innings and he’s pitched at least seven innings just six times—but given that the Pirates will be working with a full bullpen, that shouldn’t matter much.

PECOTA has the Cardinals at nearly two-to-one favorites to win this game, but I think that’s underselling Cole. Plus, while small sample size caveats here are obvious, Pittsburgh’s offense has outhit St. Louis’ to this point, putting up a .719 OPS compared to the Cards’ mark of .612.

With the two highest-upside arms starting for each team and with all hands on deck in each bullpen, this has all the makings of an excellent game. The Pirates’ late-game trio of Justin Wilson, Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli has been nearly perfect so far in October, while the Cardinals’ bevy of hard-throwing relievers looms large.

My Prediction: Cole rises to the challenge and subdues a potent Cardinals lineup, but Wainwright is just too good in the end. The Cardinals win a close game and advance to face the Dodgers in the NLCS.

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

22 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

PelotaDiSoldi

AHHHHHHHH

Oct 09, 2013 06:47 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Ben Carsley
BP staff

Perhaps my favorite comment on any of my pieces os far. Well done.

Oct 09, 2013 10:33 AM
 
Dave from Pittsburgh

This is about as good as playoff baseball gets. I'm proud of how my Pirates have done against the Cardinals this year.

Oct 09, 2013 07:10 AM
rating: 1
 
BrianGunn
(439)

Good luck to you, Dave. I'll be rooting for the Cards, but there's not a person in St Louis who doesn't consider your team classy and worthy adversaries, and I'll be rooting for you if you move on.

Oct 09, 2013 09:16 AM
rating: 2
 
therealn0d

Don't Cardinals fans ever want to just be mean?

Oct 09, 2013 13:03 PM
rating: -1
 
Llarry

I think they save it for the Cubs...

Oct 09, 2013 13:50 PM
rating: 0
 
David Jackson

We save the hate for bandwagon fans. Pittsburgh doesn't seem to have all that many - at least not compared to the Brewers back when they were trending up.

If the Cards don't advance, I want a Pit/Oak series. That'd be awesome. If the Cards do advance, I want the Red Sox. To be the best, you should have to beat the best (and LA and Bos are it)

Oct 09, 2013 14:11 PM
rating: 0
 
BrianGunn
(439)

What's the problem with bandwagon fans? The price of fandom should not be living and dying with the team every season. Some people just want to be fans when their team is riding high - I have no idea what's dishonorable about that.

Oct 09, 2013 23:36 PM
rating: 0
 
Llarry

I think there are two kinds of "bandwagon fans" (those who think there are two kinds and those who don't...oops...), the casual fans who are enjoying the success of the local side, and the obnoxious ones who act like they're so dedicated (and entitled), but didn't actually suffer through the lean years.

Had some of those turn up in Red Sox Nation in 2004, the kind who made a big deal over the curse, but weren't lying on the living room floor watching on 10/2/78 when Bucky Dent earned his special middle name, or don't still think that Armbrister interfered with Fisk in '75...

Oct 10, 2013 10:21 AM
rating: 0
 
drawbb
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

I'm so freaking tired of this "you can't predict baseball" mantra that's been going around this site. What a bunch of nonsense.

Tonight's game was in the bag the second St Louis scored, just like last night's was over the moment Boston took the lead. The air of inevitability around each David v. Goliath first-round series the last two seasons is absolutely soul-crushing. The underdogs literally have no chance, and the whole thing is a cruel waste of time. No wonder the playoffs suck every year.

Oct 09, 2013 18:59 PM
rating: -7
 
Dodger300

Suggest you stop watching, then.

Oct 10, 2013 20:59 PM
rating: 1
 
drawbb

Don't worry, I will now that all the underdogs are out of it yet again. Just try to understand how it feels when you don't have a dog in the fight, but also don't want to see one country club against another. I get why you feel differently, your team is one of them.

Oct 10, 2013 23:04 PM
rating: -1
 
Dodger300

The dodgers have not been to the World Series since 1988.

In fact, I think the argument can be made that the A's, Rays, and even the Pirates have enjoyed more post- season success in the past 25 years than the Dodgers have,

Oct 11, 2013 09:19 AM
rating: 0
 
drawbb

I don't.

This is the third NLCS appearances in 6 years for the Dodgers. Their 3 first-round series victories just since 2008 is the exact number of COMBINED playoff series victories that Oakland, TB, and Pittsburgh have since we went to this playoff format in 1995

By all means, sit back and enjoy your team's time in the spotlight...but trying to drum up "oh, the poor woebegotten Dodgers" sympathy for a team with a $200 million payroll who is making its 3d LCS appearance in 6 years is the height of hypocrisy.

Oct 11, 2013 16:16 PM
rating: -1
 
Dodger300

Do you think you can win every discussion by unlaterally chaging the terms so that you can disregard al of the facts that show you are wrong?

Prior to this year, Dodgers have been in exactly two league championship series since 1988. Meanwhile, the Pirates have been in three, the Rays one, and the A's four, forva grand total of eight.

The Dodgers lost their NLCS matchups both times. in the ALCS, the A's one twice and the Rays did once. That combines for three World Series appearances, compared to none for the Dodgers.

And of course, the A's alone among these four teams have won a World Championship, sweeping the Giants in the earthquake series in 1989.

Heck, just this year the Rays and Pirates won their first round match ups for a total of two advancements, while the Dodgers have advanced once so far.

I'm sure you will try to change the date to avoid having to look at the past quarter century, and will want to pick and choose to which post-season games you are willing to count while disposing of the rest. That is what bullies do.

BTW, it is no secret that you raised the exact same fuss last year, protesting that's the same teams always win (even though the Dodgers weren't one of them then).

Let me suggest to you that if it is your choice to always root for the underdogs, then by definition, far more often than not the teams you root for will lose.

It is quite fun to see how silly you sound when you act offended that the better teams win. OMG!

With all of your bitter and negative posts on BP, it is no surprise that you might very well have most comments on the board that have been buried by your peers because they are voted to be "below the viewing threshold."

Oct 12, 2013 03:15 AM
rating: -1
 
drawbb

What a joke. I didn't use my own definition, I used yours from your previous post "more post-season success." The most sensible definition of that is "winning a postseason series." Merely appearing does not meet any reasonable definition of "more post-season success." If you had chosen the phrase "playoff appearances" instead, I wouldn't have contested it.

Last Pirates postseason series victory = 1979
Dodger postseason series victories since then = 8 (including 2 world titles)

Last Tampa Bay postseason series victory = 2008 (the only 2 in their history)
Dodger postseason series victories since then = 2

Last Oakland postseason series victory = 2006
Dodger postseason series victories since then = 3

Your attempt to say the Dodgers have had less postseason success than the Rays and Pirates is flatly absurd on its face. It's so laughable as to virtually emasculate your whole argument.

MAYBE you could make that claim with Oakland, but even that is ridiculous considering the vastly differently economic state of the franchise now as compared to where they were in the 1988-1992 range. They have done literally nothing in the playoffs under the new format and the new economic state with the exception of the one first-round series in 2006. The Dodgers' success in the same time frame towers over that record.

No, the Dodgers were not one of the final four last year, when I voiced the same concern but the fact that it's their 3d time in that position in just 6 years is exactly my point: There's too much homogenization of the playoff results lately...and it's getting worse not better.

If you don't like my posts, don't read them. At least I am not afraid to bring up problems with the game when everyone else acts like Kevin Bacon at the end of Animal House futilely protesting "All is well." Someone needs to point out there is smoke BEFORE it develops into a larger fire. If I'm wrong, it doesn't cost us anything except a momentary false alarm. If I'm right, though, it could end in a labor stoppage or worse. I'd rather head that off at the pass if possible, and if trying to stop those issues by raising them on a message board results in a few minus votes on a comment board it will be well worth it.

Oct 12, 2013 08:07 AM
rating: -1
 
Dodger300

This is the most bizarre baseball conversation that I have ever had.

I am used to others telling me how much the Dodgers suck. You are the very first person who has EVER tried to convince me how great they are.

You are truly dealing from a different deck of cards than everyone else!

Oct 12, 2013 20:24 PM
rating: 0
 
drawbb

I'm not sure who you're talking to that tells you how much the Dodgers suck, but they aren't too sharp. I looked at the NFL and NBA as a point of comparison, searching for teams that had been to the "final four" in each of those sports at least 3 times in the past 6 seasons as the Dodgers have in MLB. Here was the list I found:

MLB = Tigers, Yankees, Dodgers, Phillies, Cardinals
NFL = Ravens, Patriots
NBA = Lakers, Spurs, Heat

If that's a list of teams who "suck" lately, then I sure wish my team was on it.

Oct 14, 2013 21:51 PM
rating: 0
 
drawbb

And for the record, I am not cherry-picking dates as you implied. I'm simply trying to separate the different systems, which are highly deceptive if the results of those are combined. Pittsburgh's 3 straight NLCS appearances in 1990-2 have no application to now because they qualified directly, just as Los Angeles might have done in 1995, 1996, or 2004 had the old system still been in place.

The one-game wild-card play-ins of the last 2 years are not series in any meaningful sense of that term. Even if they could be considered as such, the Dodgers have yet to be in that situation, so it has only minor bearing on your chosen topic of "most post-season success."

Oct 12, 2013 08:17 AM
rating: -1
 
drawbb

Sorry to split this into another post, you raised several separate issues that I thought each deserved their own discrete response.

OF COURSE I always root for the underdog when my team is out of it...who DOESN'T do that? That's what America is supposed to be all about--rooting for the little guy. You say that as if it's some foreign concept.

I'm fully aware that's going to result in disappointment more often than not. Maybe you didn't quite understand what I was saying initially, which was that even in spite of that we should still see some of those teams advance and win SOME of the time...not all the time, but occasionally.

My concern is that now we are not seeing those teams even get close. Forget winning the whole thing, they are immediately getting bounced out in the first round lately. Recently it seems as if their only opportunity to advance out of the first round is if they play another non-traditional power. When it's "have" against "have not" they have no shot, and pure chance dictates that isn't going to hold up all the time. Yet it now seems to be doing so, and that blows for anyone rooting for the little guy as I am.

The larger concern is that it isn't good for the overall financial health of the entire sport. What fans of larger teams often fail to appreciate is that EVERYONE benefits by somebody like the Pirates or Rays winning a surprise world title. When capitalized upon properly by management (the non-Marlins variety), it will result in a much healthier franchise (like Cleveland in the '90s) who is no longer taking from the central fund and the richer franchises, but rather perhaps even paying into it. That's good for the wealthy clubs, incidentally.

I am not "offended" that better teams win, I know they're better. The whole point is that this sport is supposed to offer lesser teams a better CHANCE to beat better teams than something like college football or soccer, and I should still see a significant upset a fair portion of the time...however you want to define that.

The problem is that lately even that chance has seemingly disappeared. In another post before the playoffs started, I said Boston, St Louis, and the Dodgers all should be considered overwhelming favorites and they did all win with minimal trouble. It shouldn't be THAT easy a call, and yet recently it is. To me, that is a problem...and it's drastically affecting my interest in the game. Keep in mind this is a site where we already have more interest in the game just by virtue of being paying members. If it's enough of an issue to affect MY interest, then just how much is it draining away the more mainstream audience? Just last week before any of these series were final, I heard another baseball colleague voice the same concern that too many of the same teams are advancing every year.

In any event, thanks for your responses.

Oct 12, 2013 08:45 AM
rating: -1
 
Dodger300

You concern is laudable, but your facts are 180 degrees off course.

When the Diamondbacks upset the Yankees back in 20001, they ushered in the golden age of diversity in the World Series.

Since that time we have seen two World Champions who returned to the throne for the first time in over 85 years - the Red Sox and White Sox.

We have seen teams win their first ever championship - the Angels and Diamondbacks.

We have seen teams return after decades on the outside - Giants, Tigers, and Phillies.

We have seen several first time participants - Astros, Rockies, Rays, and Rangers.

We saw the unexpected return of a team that shocked us both times it has won a World Championship, without ever having won a division title - the Marlins.

There is no period in baseball history where you will find more parity among teams with such diverse entries into the World Series as the current era.

That is just looking at the World Series, of course. I correctly predicted that you would not want to deal with the changing structure of the post-season since the expansion era and would try to dismiss the various formats, in order to limit the discussion to whatever fits your argument the best for the moment. Nonetheless, all post-season games count.

Just go ahead and try telling the fans and the players and the owners of the Rays and Pirates that their post-season victories this year were absolutely no better than the losses that the Indians and Reds experienced.

Now, I suppose that you don't have a working memory of all of of the decades that the Senators, Browns, Phillies, and Athletics spent as doormats. Nonethless, they would laugh uproariously to think that your concern about the Pirates 20 year absence from the post-season amounts to anything more than a hill of beans.

Oct 12, 2013 20:57 PM
rating: 0
 
drawbb

All that's true when looking back over the last 10-15 years, although partly a result of the playoff structure changes.

However, I was trying to make the point that the parity may be starting to reverse course based on looking just at the last 2 years or so.

You're making a fundamental error here in trying to compare the various playoff formats. The requirements for qualifying and advancing are so dramatically different that it skews your argument.

Of course the one-game play-in wins "counted" in that sense of term, but it's equally true that they are not nearly the same thing as winning a longer playoff series (which was my point when I initially mentioned them).

We're all aware of the lousy histories of those other franchises you named, but--again--their only recourse in those days was to finish first. If that standard were still in place today, Pittsburgh's drought would've been extended by another season instead of ending. Furthermore, despite the harsher barriers to competing on any even playing field in place then, it should be noted that none of them managed to match the Pirates' 20 consecutive losing seasons. That horrible 32 out of 33 season run or whatever it was the Phillies had for a while may have been worse, though.

Oct 14, 2013 22:03 PM
rating: 0
 
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