The Pirates won their first playoff game in 21 years in the NL Wild Card Game, and now advance to the NLDS to play the St. Louis Cardinals. These two teams know each other well, as they played 19 times in the regular season. The Pirates won 10 out of 19. Game 1 of this series will be Thursday in St. Louis at 5:07 PM ET on TBS, while Game 2 in St. Louis will be Friday at 1:07 PM ET on MLB Network.
Lineup: Cardinals. While the Pirates proved against the Reds they have a good lineup, the Cardinals led the league in runs, doubles, and on-base percentage. Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter, Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, and Allen Craig make quite a group, and pitchers can’t pitch around all of them.
Bench: Pirates. The Pirates unit is very strong, consisting of multiple players with a lot of starting experience elsewhere. John Buck, Gaby Sanchez, Jose Tabata, Felix Pie, and Josh Harrison can all hold their own coming off the bench to pinch-hit late in the game. Matt Adams, Pete Kozma, and Shane Robinson are all very good in their roles for the Cardinals.
Rotation: Pirates (tough call). The Pirates, behind ace Francisco Lirano, are very solid, with 2-4 (in no particular order) being AJ Burnett, Jeff Locke, and Gerrit Cole. The Cardinals have a Cy Young candidate in Adam Wainwright, as well as the solid Lance Lynn and the impressive rookie Shelby Miller, and their 4th starter will be Joe Kelly, who has been impressive in 15 starts this year. Both rotations have a good mix of veterans and strong young arms. The Pirates four has the slight edge over the Cardinals four.
Bullpen: Pirates. I was thinking the Cardinals had a small edge here, but then I noticed the Pirates bullpen ERA of 2.89, compared to 3.45 for the Cardinals. Jason Grilli, who has been the closer most of the season but is now in the setup role after battling some injuries, as well as Justin Wilson are two good reasons why the Pirates have this low bullpen ERA, second only to the Braves in the NL.
Closer: Cardinals. This one is another tough call, and Pirates closer Mark Melancon actually has better stats than the Cardinals Edward Mujica. Melancon spent most of the year as Grilli’s setup man, so he has only 16 saves, and has never appeared in the postseason. Mujica saved 37 games this year, and has 9 career postseason appearances, including pitching in 5 of the 7 games in last year’s NLCS. He did not allow a run in that series.
Manager: Pirates. Mike Matheny has done an excellent job in his two years as Cardinals manager since taking over after the retirement of future Hall-of-Famer Tony La Russa. However, Clint Hurdle is my pick for NL Manager of the Year after leading the Pirates to their first winning season and first playoff berth since 1992.
Home-field/crowd: Cardinals. This is a tough call because, although the Cardinals have 3 of the possible 5 games at home, these two teams have two of the best fan-bases in baseball. The Cardinals fans are legendary for their great knowledge of the game and love of the Cardinals, while the Pirates crowd didn’t disappoint at the NL Wild Card Game after their 21 year wait. The crowd aspect of this portion of the breakdown is a tie, but the Cardinals have more home games in the series.
The Pirates own 4 out of the 7 criteria in the series breakdown. However, these are all very close, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Cardinals pitching or bench shines. Since the Pirates have the advantage in the breakdown, I’ll pick them to upset the Cardinals, who have the best record in the NL, and win the series. I think these teams are way too even for the series not to go 5 games, except for one thing: I think the way the Pirates win is to split the first 2 games in St. Louis, before winning games 3 and 4 at home to win the series 3-1 and advance to the NLCS.
Note: If my series predictions are correct, the Pirates and Braves would play in the NLCS in a “rematch” of the 1992 NLCS (the last time before this year that the Pirates had been in the playoffs), as well as the 1991 NLCS a year before that.