Thursday, October 3, 2013

NLDS Preview: Pirates vs. Cardinals

            Postseason baseball is back in the Steel City people! As was witnessed by the exuberant crowd Tuesday night for the Wild Card game, Pittsburgh Pirates fans have been waiting for this day for a long time and are ready to see their team make a deep playoff run. Only problem is, they may be running into a team that has groomed itself into a postseason machine. This should be an exciting match-up with an intriguing mix of power, speed, pitching, skill, finesse, and mental acumen. Here is how the breakdown of the series looks position by position:

                        Catcher: Russell Martin vs. Yadier Molina
Advantage: MOLINA
            This may be one of the most lopsided position breakdowns of the entire series, which speaks more to the ability of Molina than it does to Russell Martin’s ability. Not only can Molina hit like Johnny Bench and catch and throw like Pudge Rodriguez, but he also has the innate ability to call a game for his pitchers that is unrivaled in the game today. Martin has some pop in his bat and is an above average defensive catcher, but compared to Molina he is simply outmatched.

1st Base: Justin Morneau vs. Matt Adams
Advantage: PUSH
            Keep a close eye on this match-up as it may be a key opening for the Pirates with starting Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig unable to play in this series. This edge would be severely skewed in the Cardinals favor if Craig was out there and while Matt Adams has done well in his limited starting role, he is no Allen Craig. Morneau used to possess an MVP-caliber bat, but those days are long since passed. His pop has decreased significantly as well, but he should provide a calming influence in the dugout for some of his young teammates.

2nd Base: Neil Walker vs. Matt Carpenter
Advantage: CARPENTER
            This match-up has a similar tone to that of the catchers, as Neil Walker is a well above average second baseman; however Matt Carpenter has quietly turned into one of the best in the league. His ability to play solid defense and be a table-setter at the top of the Cards lineup has been huge for the team all season. Walker will make all the plays and can knock one out of the park every now and then but other than Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia there really is nobody who would take this match-up over Carpenter.

Shortstop: Clint Barmes vs. Daniel Descalso
Advantage: BARMES
            This is a position battle full of ineptitude as both of these men are in there solely because neither team has a better option for the time being. Neither guy can hit a lick and will likely find himself batting in front of the pitcher for most of the series. With these two lineups, these guys are not expected to be the big bats, but instead to provide consistent, reliable defense and maybe poke a hit through here and there.

3rd Base: Pedro Alvarez vs. David Freese
Advantage: ALVAREZ
            Defensively, this is a wash as both guys are not going to be bringing home a Gold Glove anytime soon. Offensively, two years ago this would have been a much different debate. Freese was coming off his NLCS and World Series MVP season and Alvarez was slowly beginning to show signs of life. Nowadays, Alvarez is a premier power hitter and Freese is struggling to get the ball out of the infield. This match-up swings heavily in the Bucs favor as Alvarez has game-changing power and Freese is seemingly a shell of himself. Cards fans can only hope the postseason brings out the best in him once again.

Left Field: Starling Marte vs. Matt Holliday
Advantage: PUSH
            One of the great position battles of this series, you could close your eyes and pick and would be hard pressed to not be content with your selection. Marte provides the better defense and speed, and is also a table setter for Manager Clint Hurdle, but Holliday still has that pop and those strong hands that have made him one of the greatest hitters of the decade.

Center Field: Andrew McCutchen vs. Jon Jay
Advantage: MCCUTCHEN
            Poor Jon Jay, he never stood a chance here. While Jay is a serviceable center fielder with average hitting ability and above average defense, McCutchen is an All-Star and a NL MVP candidate year in and year out. His combination of power, average, speed, and defense make him one the best players in the game of baseball. Huge edge here to the Pirates.

Right Field: Marlon Byrd vs. Carlos Beltran
Advantage: PUSH
            Another very intriguing positional breakdown as both of these players provide well above average bats and suitable defense in right. Byrd had a breakout year and could be the sleeper hero of this playoff series, while Beltran continues to be himself, hitting for average and power year in and year out. No losers here in this battle.

Bench: PIRATES
            The Cardinals really do not have any secret weapons on the bench that can provide anywhere near the same amount of upside as the Pirates. Not only do the Pirates have some speed and power on their bench, they also have solid defensive replacements and potential spot starters if need be. Massive advantage here for Clint Hurdle’s Pirates.

Starting Pitching: PUSH
            Another example of no winner and no loser here. While Adam Wainwright is the best arm on either team, Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett have both showed unhittable stuff in recent games. Each team is lucky to have not three, but four quality starters that can be thrown out there and expected to succeed. The key may come down to the fact that Liriano will only be able to pitch once in this series due to the play-in Wild Card game so keep that in mind.

Bullpen: PUSH
            On paper, both teams have phenomenal closers in Jason Grilli and Edward Mujica, however Grilli is returning from injury and Mujica sputtered down the stretch. When healthy and on, both of these guys are top 5 closers in my opinion. These bullpens don’t stop here though as they provide blueprints of exactly how a playoff bullpen should look. They both have top notch setup men and left-handed specialists, as well as long-relief guys that can save a pen if a game gets out of control early. Hard to go wrong either way here.

Managers: Clint Hurdle vs. Mike Matheny
Advantage: MATHENY
            While Clint Hurdle is a fabulous manager and deserves great respect, this is one area in which the Cardinals really have an advantage. For Mike Matheny, it’s simply another postseason as Tony La Russa’s replacement. Not only did he see plenty of postseason ballgames from behind the plate for the Cards, but he also took the upstart and underdog team to the playoffs last year, shocking the Nationals in 5 games. Matheny is a master of making in-game adjustments and knows how to use his bullpen to a T. Hurdle employs a different management style, but is no slouch himself. I predict at least one game will come down to these two baseball minds, and it should be interesting to watch.

Prediction: CARDINALS IN 4

            It really pains me to make this pick because I have truly enjoyed watching what the Pirates have done this year; however I feel that coming off the high off beating the rival Reds and not having Liriano for 2 starts will hurt the Buccos big time. The Cardinals play playoff baseball year round, as it witnessed by their .330 BA with runners in scoring position (and YES this stat matters people). The leadership of Molina, Beltran, Wainwright, and Holliday will simply be too much for the Pirates. 

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