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Five things in the Pirates’ favor and five things working against them in Game 5

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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.

-          TS

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Comments

  1. Steelag70 says:

    I thought Wainwright blew up last year in Game 5 of the NLDS?? Please correct me if I am wrong….

  2. NorthPirateFan says:

    Sorry to quibble Travis but your 3. in the Reasons the Cardinals Will Win section is miss-titled. It should be 3. Clint Hurdle Doesn’t Know How to Use the Players He Has Available.

    Yes Neil Walker is in a slump, but he’s shown all season that he can consistently hit the RHP pitching the team has been facing in this season so it’s not unreasonable to expect that to end and keep plugging him in, maybe in a different spot in the order, and hope he breaks out.

    No Starling Marte is not in a slump, he’s merely doing now what he’s done all season, all last season, all through out his career, which is fail to hit RHP but doing especially poorly against the best RHP pitchers in the game which the Pirates are seeing a lot of in this series.

    The real issue is seeing what these two are doing in this series and measuring it against their career performances and what’s Clint Hurdle going to do with them when he makes out his lineup?

    You say the Pirates have embraced the 21st century but as I’ve said before I think you’re stretching it a bit but especially wrt Clint Hurdle. When I see Josh Harrison being thrown out at second in the 8th inning of a playoff game with the team down 1 run it all seems very 19th centuryish to me.

    I think we’ll have a better idea of the situation shortly after the lineups are posted tomorrow and we see if Clint’s adoration of speed leads him to once again put Starling Marte in a position he’s shown over the last season and a half he can’t succeed in or not.

  3. Joe says:

    The edge is with the Cards no doubt. The Bucs will need some luck to win this game but I think they’ll do it! Keep in mind, anything can happen in a one game playoff which is what this amounts to on Wed.

  4. Chuck H says:

    Monday’s game was a disgrace-a no-name pitcher again baffled the Pirate hitters(hitters)?
    If Pedro with his blind swings, hit Wacha-Wacha,Do for a homer, then why couldn’t the
    rest of the team hit him? Wacha had a lot of help from the home plate umpire, who called
    a lot of wide pitches strikes against the Bucs. I thought he sucked at calling balls and
    strikes, in fact, he was the worst umpire in baseball history. I hope the Pirates bring their
    bats to the game Wednesday. If not, season over!!!

  5. Brendan says:

    He did, to the tune of 6 ER in 2.1 IP.

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/WAS/WAS201210120.shtml

    Which underscores the reality that while Wainwright is very, very good–likely one of the Top 5 pitchers in baseball since 2009–anything can happen in one game.

  6. Travis Sawchik says:

    Good catch. I misread a statline on Wainwright. My mistake. I believe it’s six of seven postseason appearances with one run allowed or less.

  7. Brendan says:

    Wacha is hardly a no-name pitcher.

    He’s one of the top young pitchers in baseball, who’d come within an out of a no-hitter when last he pitched. If he’s a no-name pitcher than the Cardinals should feel equally disgraced having been dominated by Gerrit Cole in Game 2. That doesn’t take the onus off of the Pirates but to characterize him as some of journeyman or marginal prospect would be entirely inaccurate.

    Furthermore the strike zone was considerably smaller than in Game 3, in which the expanded zone benefited the Pirates and Cardinals pretty equally.

  8. Brendan says:

    No worries. But your larger point, that he’s quite good and has been quite good in the post-season stands I think.

  9. Leo Walter says:

    Chuck H : you really do not know much about Major League ( or any other ) Baseball,do you ?

  10. Leo Walter says:

    You know NPF,I find myself agreeing with you more rather tan not lately. It is fairly obvious that despite Marte’s OBP,the Pirate offense will be much improved with a patient lead off guy who works the count,walks a lot more ,strikes out a lot less,and also has a little power on top of that. I think I saw that young man this past Summer though,Gregory Polanco.

  11. bucfan59 says:

    I think it was a hit and run with Harrison, not a straight steal. If so, not a bad call as Tabata usually can get the bat on the ball.

    The shifting stuff is overblown. Teams have always shifted based on how the pitcher is pitching to each particular hitter. Teams regularly put 3 infielders on the right side when Stargell hit. I also noted that on one play, Walker was positioned in short rf. The ball was grounded at him, but the play at first was much closer than it would have been had Walker been at that same position in the infield. Just because baseball generates a lot of numbers, it doesn’t mean slicing and dicing them produces actual meaningful information.

  12. bucfan59 says:

    Wacha is essentially an unknown quantity. It wasn’t that long ago that Shelby Miller was the next Cy Young, now he’s the last man on Matheny’s pitching staff. The NL caught up to him. The league doesn’t have a complete book on Wacha yet and he can’t really be judged as good, bad or average until it does. IMHO, it takes about 50-60% of the season for adjustments to be made against pitchers. We’ll see where Wacha is by next all-star break.

  13. NMR says:

    Not so fats on Shelby Miller. Dude finished the year with a 3.06 ERA including 2.79 in September. Just ran out of gas with the big jump in innings.
    .
    Teams will adjust to Wacha, no doubt, but three plus pitches with command equals success no matter how long you go.

  14. Leo Walter says:

    You ought to mention that there isn’t a complete book on Cole either. He has only pitched against the Cardinals once,for an example. However,it should work in his favor….this season. Next though ???

  15. bucfan59 says:

    Cole has about 20 starts under his belt and has been up since June.
    Cole has already experienced at least some of the NL catching up to him since he lost about 4 or 5 straight after starting out 4-0. He’s in the re-adjusting phase from now on.

  16. leefoo says:

    ” It has to sting the Pirates a little bit that Wacha went 11 picks after they selected Mark Appel in the 2012 draft.”

    I doubt it….coming out of college his ceiling was supposedly that of a # 3 starter. Somewhere, somehow (d**n Cardinal development system), his top 3 pitches all went plus.

    There’s no way to predict that happening.

    Besides, if we hadn’t taken Appel, we had David Dahl agreeing to a deal.

    Foo

  17. leefoo says:

    “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”

    Couldn’t agree more….off the bat, I thought it was a DP. Couldn’t believe they didn’t have a shift on.

    Foo

  18. Chris says:

    Marte & Walker are 1-31 and that hit is an “oops” check swing hit by Marte.

  19. Travis Sawchik says:

    NorthPirateFan,

    I wrote last month that I think Clint Hurdle has embraced 21st century thought at the macro level – shifts, idea of lineup platoon, etc. – but he is still very 20th century at the micro level when it comes to employing a traditional closer and preferring speed over on-base at the lead-off spot.

    They are legit concerns you have. But I don’t think Hurdle has gotten enough praise for his macro approach. He got his entire staff and roster to buy into a radical defensive philosophy. That’s huge.

  20. Travis Sawchik says:

    I’m with Brendan and NMR

    Shelby was outstanding in the first half of the season, but he appeared to tire in Sept. He’s still one of the most valuable young arms in the game — and Wacha is even better.

    What’s scary about Wacha is he appears to be developing a pretty good curveball in addition to his plus fastball and changeup.

    Cole/Taillon or Wacha/Miller could be a good debate in the NL Central for years to come

  21. Travis Sawchik says:

    Foo,

    You’re right David Dahl would have been the pick, not Wacha.

    And I don’t fault the Pirates for rolling the dice on Appel. He was a top three overall talent and imagine a Cole-Appel-Taillon rotation in 2014? (What i think you can question is if the penalties of going over slot for Appel would have been worth it)

  22. Travis Sawchik says:

    Yeah, not what you’re looking for from the top of the lineup. Walker was so hot leading into postseason, too

  23. Jim S. says:

    Good call, Leo. Polanco is an excellent leadoff possibility going forward. But, we don’t have him tonight. Marte is a free swinger for sure, but he had so many HBP that he actually had a decent (.340-ish) OBP. The real question, to me, is whether Marte has his timing and batting eye back from the long layoff and no available rehab. It certainly looks like that is not the case. Tabata may be a better leadoff option right now. But, Tabata is light years behind Marte in every aspect of OF defense. So, inserting him into the lineup somewhat negates a huge defensive advantage for the Bucs. I concur with you and North that Marte is struggling big-time, but I trust Clint on leaving Starling in there. There is more to the game than offense.

  24. Jim S. says:

    The evidence is mounting that the shifts going on in today’s game are working more often than not, bucfan. Averages are plummeting all over MLB. Batters that don’t use the entire field are predictable to defend, and hit for very low averages. It is not all attributable to shifts, but I think they have a lot to do with it. And, as you say, shifts have been around for a long time. But, not to this degree.

  25. Jim S. says:

    He won’t be a no name pitcher for long, Chuck. I think you should give Wacha a bit more credit. He has allowed 2 hits in 16+ innings over his last 2 starts. How many pitchers in the last 50 years can say they have done that? Very few.

  26. Jim S. says:

    Pedro’s been known to hit the ball to the vacated SS position on extreme shifts. I don’t think we can say for sure he would have taken the same approach if an extra defender had been on the right side of 2b, and a 3rd had been positioned just to the left of 2b.

  27. Jim S. says:

    What about Marte’s oops! HR in Game 2?

  28. Jim S. says:

    Excellent point on Cole, bucfan.

  29. Travis Sawchik says:

    Polanco would be a much better fit in lead-off role in 2014. Great plate discipline for a young hitter. I like the thinking …. Maybe the best way to ensure Marte reaches base tonight is to use him as a pinch-runner, but is it worth losing his LF defense for a one-time event?

  30. Travis Sawchik says:

    Also, Cole is a much different pitcher than the one he was in April-June. He now has legit velocity separation with his curveball. He doubled his curveball useage in Sept.

  31. Brendan says:

    To my mind Appel wasn’t worth losing future draft picks, which would have been the result of offering enough to meet his demands.

    If he had the ceiling of a Strasburg or Cole maybe you consider it, but it certainly didn’t seem as though evaluators considered him to be in that neighborhood.

    I’m pretty happen with the eventual outcome–Austin Meadows. Although he’s obviously some years away.

  32. Travis Sawchik says:

    I really liked the Pirates high-upside approach to the 2013 first round. Meadows was a top 5 talent who dropped and had a great pro debut. Ditto for Reese McGuire. And Tyler Glasnow might make everyone forget about Appel. He has that upside

  33. NorthPirateFan says:

    This notion that Marte is experiencing some slump, or his layoff has altered his performance in some way is simply not based in reality. He hasn’t lost his batting eye, because he never had one against RHP which make up 75-80% of the pitching a full time player over the course of a season.

    His .340-ish OBP is not the result of the HBPs it’s the result of the fact that he crushes LHP to the tune of a a.402 batting average and a .466 OBP which when combined with the abysmal .254 and .315 numbers against RHP create that number.

    He’s not doing anything different this series than he has going all the way back to the beginning of last season. The only reason the result is more glaring is because unlike the regular season after he’d strung together multiple 0-fers it was only a matter time before he’d see a LH starter or a second or third tier RH he might have more success against.

    But this is the playoffs and it’s 5 straight games against some of the best RHP in the game, so no break for him to be had.

    WRT to Polanco, sure he walks at the minimally acceptable rate (once every ten at bats) and has a decent OBP, but as I’ve been pointing out Pedro Alvarez had a much better rate in the minors than Polanco does. He, along with other players many former and current Pirates like Garrett Jones, Brandon Moss and others, all hand more discipline and better walk rates in both the minors and with other clubs, so what’s going on?

    Will Polanco be able to keep that rate or upon his arrival in Pittsburgh will he get the “you’re an outfielder so if you want to make it hit more home runs” talk?

  34. NorthPirateFan says:

    I liked both the picks but Meadows’ debut as a pro was something else.

    There’s some real serious potential there I think.

  35. Jim S. says:

    I say no, Travis. It’s not like they would be replacing Marte with another McCutchen. Tabata is no sure thing to get a couple hits.

  36. Jim S. says:

    North:

    You make some good points. But, I think you have a tendency to go to the extremes on Marte. Marte was HBP 25 times this year, so that did have a large effect on his OBP. You are correct that he does not hit RHP all that well at this point. But, .254 and pretty good XBH totals is not awful given that it was estimated he saved 20 runs in LF vs. a replacement player. Part of the reason he did not have a higher overall batting avg. is the very low % of LHP starting games for teams other than the Pirates in the NL Central. He did not have many at bats vs lefties, whom he crushed, to bring up his overall avg. .254 avg. righty vs RHP is not all that horrible. He has barely played one season. He is 24. I don’t think it is time to give up on him quite yet. He brings far above average tools to the game in terms of speed, defense and power that you seem to overlook. He’s never going to be Cutch. We know that. He swings and misses at too many pitches out of the strike zone. But, he runs down balls all over LF & LC, and he restricts teams from taking extra bases.

  37. Jim S. says:

    And, as for Polanco, you do realize he has been young for his league at every stop while posting solid BB totals, low K totals, and usually hitting .300, right? Do you also realize that he did not grow up in the US development system? So, he was not exposed to the training or depth of competition that American kids are exposed to. He is very much on track to be an impact player in MLB.

  38. Jim S. says:

    Great point, Brendan. Austin Meadows tore it up in his first season. Wasn’t he named the top prospect in the GCL? We’ll see about Appel and his ego down the road. He’s talented, but no sure thing as an ace. I like Meadows chances a lot to eventually replace Cutch in about 4 years.

  39. NorthPirateFan says:

    Not saying the HBP don’t contribute to his OBP, obviously they do as it’s part of the calculation, just that it’s not THE reason. As 20 of his 24 HBPs came against RHP and are reflected in his .315 OBP against them the obvious for the more respectable .343 overall number is the result of those gaudy numbers against LHP.

    In order for what we’re seeing in this series to be called a slump, the performance would have to be significantly out of line with what he’s done over the course of the season and last and it’s just not. His production has been poor against RHP going all the way back to the start of last season so his numbers against the Cardinals superior RHP is exactly what we should expect of him … now Neil Walker, that ‘s a legit slump because he has always hit those same pitchers much better than he has the last four games.

    As for Polanco, I realize his age and it’s not my intention to denigrate his as a prospect. I’m just pointing out that there have been more than a few Pirates prospects who’ve come up through the system with more patience and better strike zone judgement than they were ever able demonstrate in the majors.

    Could be failure to adjust on the part of the players, but given some recent examples of players who moved on and fulfilled their potential with other clubs that preach patience and discipline, I can’t help but think that there might be other factors at work and Polanco being able to maintain his numbers isn’t a given.

  40. NMR says:

    Polanco drew as many walks as strikeouts as a 21 year old in AA. The notion that any of those guys had better plate discipline is preposterous.

  41. NorthPirateFan says:

    NMR, I think you misinterpreted or I wasn’t clear.

    I meant they had better plate discipline in the minors that they did at any point after they arrived in the majors, NOT that they had better discipline than Polanco had.

  42. NMR says:

    Very sorry North, I apologize. Your point was fine and fair, I just jumped to conclusions.

 
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