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October 10, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

NLDS Game Five Recap: Cardinals 6, Pirates 1

by R.J. Anderson

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The Cardinals will play in the NL Championship Series for the third consecutive postseason. Their advancement comes after a Game Five victory over the Pirates, in which, fittingly, Adam Wainwright, David Freese, and Matt Adams played large roles.

Wainwright—in addition to being one of the last remaining links to the 2006 World Champions squad—delivered another stellar outing to go with his Game One gem. Altogether, the big righty finishes the series by pitching 16 innings, allowing one run, walking one, and fanning 15. He threw his monster curveball 48 times on Wednesday night—or about 45 percent of the time—and at least once in 25 of his 27 multi-pitch plate appearances. Wainwright threw strikes and kept the ball on the ground, and while he allowed eight singles, the Pirates only had three runners reach scoring position.

While Wainwright shut down the Pirates, it was Freese who delivered the first offensive blow. The third baseman best known for his postseason heroics went just 1-for-3 on the night before being removed for a defensive sub, but delivered a two-run home run in the second inning off a poor 1-2 breaking ball from Gerrit Cole. Credit is due to Jon Jay for battling Cole to an eight-pitch walk the batter before; he fell behind 1-2, then managed to foul off two tough pitches before walking and keeping the inning alive.

Finally, there was Adams. He clobbered a first-pitch cutter from Mark Melancon in the eighth to widen the Cardinals' lead to 5-1. St. Louis would add another, but it was Adams who delivered the gut punch to the Pirates' chances while simultaneously reminding everyone about St. Louis' enviable player development system. Lest we forget the Cardinals won this series without Allen Craig, who finished the season ranked third on the team in True Average.

Of course, for all the praise heading St. Louis' way, it's worth giving Pittsburgh some shine as well. The fielded a quality team and were a win away from advancing. Cole outpitched the final score, and probably would've pitched deeper into the game were it not for his spot in the order coming up in the sixth. Clint Hurdle tried generating offensive by inserting Garrett Jones as a pinch-hitter. That failed, and in the end the Pirates just couldn't scratch across enough versus Wainwright to win the series.

Now Pittsburgh heads into the winter facing higher expectations than before. Many veterans, including A.J. Burnett and Marlon Byrd, are headed for free agency, leaving the Pirates to ponder succession plans. What it all means for the Pirates and their competitive aspirations in 2014 is for another day. For now, their fans should reflect on a wonderful season and cherish the high points. Cherish having a team good enough to make the playoffs and look the part on the national stage. Those who do will understand why St. Louis is special.

And, as for the Cardinals, they'll open the NLCS against the Dodgers on Friday. Expect to see Zack Greinke toe the rubber against Lance Lynn in Game One.

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

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