ABOARD A SOUTHWEST FLIGHT TO ST. LOUIS – Playing an elimination Game 5 against a rival ace on the road isn’t ideal. But, hey, the Pirates are here and they have a shot. That’s pretty amazing, big picture. Think back to your February expectations.
They’ve been one game better than the Cardinals in their head-to-head match-up this season (12-11) and the moment has never been too big for Gerrit Cole. All is not lost just yet.
The following is a look at five things working in the Pirates’ favor and five things working against them Thursday night in St. Louis.
FIVE REASONS TO BELIEVE THE PIRATES WILL WIN
1 Gerrit Cole is making the start, not AJ Burnett
Clint Hurdle didn’t really have much of choice here. Burnett has a 15.50 ERA at Busch Stadium as a Pirates and was rocked in Game 1 of the series. Starting him would be a decision that could be second guessed all offseason. Veteran loyalty can only go so far. And beyond Burnett’s performance against the Cardinals, Cole is simply a better pitcher at this point who has not shrunk, but rather, risen to moments throughout his career.
2. Matt Carpenter is in a funk
Carpenter came out of nowhere this season to be the Cardinals’ leadoff catalyst and a 6.6 WAR second baseman, ranking behind on Robinson Cano. But Carpenter has been mired in a swing-and-miss funk this series. The 13th round 2009 pick out of TCU had the 8th best contract rate in baseball in the regular season – swinging and missing just 4.1 percent of the time – but he swung and missed five times alone Monday.
3. Michael Wacha isn’t pitching
As good as Adam Wainwright is no Cardinals’ starter - yes, even, Wainwright – has the stuff of Michael Wacha who was six combined outs from going all Johnny Vander Meer on us with back-to-back no-hitters. It has to sting the Pirates a little bit that Wacha went 11 picks after they selected Mark Appel in the 2012 draft.
4. The Pirates have embraced the 21st century, the Cardinals have not
If the Cardinals had shifted on Pedro Alvarez in the eighth inning of Game 3 the series might be over. Instead of a go-ahead hit, the Cardinals might have turned a inning-ending, threat-ending double play. But unlike the Pirates, the Cardinals have not embraced shifting, ostensibly because their pitchers are not comfortable with it. That give the Pirates a competitive advantage and allowed the Pirates to balance their offensive firepower disadvantage with a defensive advantage.
5. The Pirates have an MVP candidate
No play can affect Game 5 in as many ways as Andrew McCutchen. While some question the arm, the other four tools play and he’s been a difference maker in several games between these two clubs this season.
FIVE REASONS TO THINK THE CARDINALS WILL WIN
1 Adam Wainwright is pitching
In six of seven postseason appearances, Wainwright has never allowed more than a single run. Oh, and he has the second best curveball in the NL and the Pirates are the third worst curveball hitting team in baseball per Baseball Info Solutions.
2. The Cardinals have home-field
As we documented last week, there’s plenty of evidence proving home-field is real and a rowdy home crowd enhances it (namely umpire bias on close calls). The 8 p.m. starts hurts the Pirates as the Cardinals faithful will have more time to be liquid enhanced.
3. Neil Walker and Starling Marte are in a funk
The Pirates’ No. 1 and No. 2 hitters are a combined 1-for-31 in the series. You have to wonder where Marte is after missing so much time with a hand injury and as hot as Walker was in late Sept., he’s now equally cold. The Pirates need Walker and their other LHH to be productive vs. Wainwright.
4. The Cardinals have the best postseason player of this generation (sorry, Derek Jeter)
Charlie Morton pitched to Carlos Beltran in Game 4 like he was better than Babe Ruth. Well, Beltran is in the postseason. Beltran has 16 postseason home runs, good for 8th all-time, passing Ruth this series. He has baesball’s all-time best postseason OPS (1.245).
5. Yadier Molina might be the NL MVP
Let’s seem, Molina shuts down opponent running games – he threw out Josh Harrison in the 8th inning Monday – he’s an excellent pitch framer and caller of games, and he’s a plus hitter. Not a bad package, and he should garner heavy MVP consideration this season.