Commentary

Burning questions: Cardinals-Pirates

Originally Published: October 2, 2013
By Tim Kurkjian | ESPN.com

The Cardinals and Pirates have been playing since 1882, but this will be the first time they have played each other in a postseason game. The Pirates haven't won a postseason series since 1979 when they came back from 3-1 down to beat the Orioles in the World Series, while the Cardinals have won 16 postseason series since then.

These two teams played 19 times this year with the Pirates holding a 10-9 edge. Pittsburgh scored 4.5 runs per game, and the Cardinals scored 4.6. It can't get any closer than this.

Here are five questions to consider before this series starts Thursday:

What kind of momentum do the Pirates have?

Russell Martin
Martin

PNC Park was quite a scene for the wild-card game Tuesday night -- everyone dressed in black, a celebration of playoff baseball in Pittsburgh for the first time in 21 years. It was a tribute to Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski, Willie Stargell and all the Pirates from pennants past.

Russell Martin, who has done as much as anyone to turn the Pirates around this year, became the seventh player -- and only the second catcher, joining Yogi Berra -- to hit two home runs in a winner-take-all game.

Martin called it "the loudest crowd I've ever heard." PNC should be even louder for Game 3 against the Cardinals, especially if the Pirates can win one in St. Louis.

How much will the Cardinals miss injured Allen Craig?

Ask anyone on the team and he'll tell you that the one guy he wants at the plate in the key situation is Allen Craig.

Allen Craig
Craig

He drove in 97 runs. He batted .454 with runners in scoring position and .448 with runners in scoring position and two outs.

Plus, the Cardinals aren't as productive against left-handed pitching as they are against righties. They have a .238 average and a .672 OPS against lefties, but those numbers jump to a .280 average and a .755 OPS against righties.

Craig's replacement, Matt Adams, had the highest slugging percentage (.503) on the Cardinals. He is dangerous, but his numbers against lefties aren't the same either: .231 average with zero walks and 19 strikeouts in 52 at-bats.

With Craig healthy, the Cardinals always had one really dangerous hitter on the bench to deliver late. Now they don't.

How can we explain Marlon Byrd?

Byrd's career was close to being over; then he signed with the Mets in February, was their best hitter this season and was acquired by the Pirates for the stretch run. He continued to hit, and in the first two games of the crucial series last weekend against the Reds, he went 6-for-8.

In the wild-card game, Byrd homered in his first postseason at-bat after going 1,250 games without appearing in the playoffs. The last player to play that many regular-season games and homer in his first postseason at-bat was Brooks Robinson, who played in 1,406 games before homering against Don Drysdale in the 1966 World Series.

The postseason is filled with stories of players who joined a team late and helped carry that team to new heights, a la Cody Ross in the 2010 postseason for the Giants. Maybe it's Byrd's time.

Are the young Cardinals pitchers up for the pressure of the postseason?

Nearly 40 percent of the Cardinals innings this year were thrown by rookies.

They won 37 games, had an ERA under 3.20 and averaged nearly a strikeout per inning. Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal and a few others are good enough to pitch their way through the pressure.

Talent is often more important than experience. Plus, Rosenthal and Joe Kelly, in his second season, got a taste of the postseason in 2012.

Does either team have an advantage in starting pitching?

It's pretty close.

Adam Wainwright
Wainwright

The Cardinals' starters went 77-46 with a 3.42 ERA and 15 shutouts. The Pirates' starters went 64-48 with a 3.50 ERA and 16 shutouts.

The difference might be St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright, who went 19-9 this year. He will be on full rest for Game 1 and could come back for Game 5, if needed. He started three times against the Pirates this year, with a 1-0 record, a .208 batting average against and 20 strikeouts in 21 innings.

The pick: Cardinals in five.

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