On Thursday afternoon, the Pirates begin their very first National League Division Series. It is their first because the last time the Pirates were in the playoffs, the NLDS did not exist.
Next up is the St. Louis Cardinals – another division opponent for the Buccos and this one will be even tougher. The Pirates did a very good job against the Cardinals this season, winning the season series 10-9 despite being swept in their final meeting of 2013.
The Pirates and Cardinals know each other very well and these games could come down to whose pitching staff is better. In the wild card game, it was partially on the offense to determine the victor, but in this case the pitching staff should decide who moves to the Championship Series.
Let’s break down the probable matchups for all five games.
Game 1 – A.J. Burnett vs. Adam Wainwright (Thursday, 5 p.m. ET at Busch Stadium)
Both pitchers are veterans and both have the ability to dominate a game. Burnett has looked very good in his last few starts and Wainwright has been a little up and down but still very solid. Neither pitcher gives up a lot of runs so look for both teams to play a little bit of small ball to drive in some early runs. If one team goes down by two or more runs by the middle of the game, they might start swinging for the fences to get back in the game quickly.
Game 2 – Gerrit Cole vs. Lance Lynn (Friday, 1 p.m. ET at Busch)
Cole was named the NL rookie of the month for September and let’s hope his October is just as good because Lynn has a history of knocking the Pirates off kilter and out of rhythm the entire game. If the Pirates can jump on Lynn early, they could score runs in bunches and get to the Cardinal bullpen sooner. Cole needs to control his emotions, so it’s almost a good thing his game will be on the road as it should allow him to focus in a bit more.
Game 3 – Francisco Liriano vs. Joe Kelly (Sunday at PNC Park)
It will be Kelly or Shelby Miller starting this game for the Cardinals. Both St. Louis pitchers have had success against the Pirates, but Kelly seems to have handled the Buccos a bit better this season overall and it’s my guess he’ll get the start in Game 3. Liriano seems to pitch masterfully at home as we’ve seen all season, and he looks to keep it rolling here by holding back a Cards team that struggles against the lefties. This could be the game that decides the fate for both teams and sets them up for the NL Championship Series.
Game 4 – Charlie Morton vs. Shelby Miller (Monday at PNC Park)
Morton could be looking at closing the door on the Cardinals and Miller could be tasked with taking the series back to St. Louis. Of course, it could also be the reverse order, but either way this game will offer the opportunity for one of the teams to officially close out the series if a sweep hasn’t happened. If you are the Pirates, you hope for a very nice outing for Morton and a common theme here for the Pirates will be to jump on the opposing pitcher early.
Game 5 – Burnett vs. Wainwright (Wednesday at Busch)
Just like Game 1, two of each teams best pitchers will square off one final time. Could A.J. pitch lights out because he would know if they lose, it might be his final time pitching in the majors? No matter the storyline for either team, this game is a do-or-die situation and each team will certainly play like it. The Pirates already have experience with this type of game but the Cardinals have more overall playoff experience, so something will give and it could be an epic finish or a heart-wrenching loss for either team.
Justin Morneau – To date, Morneau has not hit a home run for the Pirates in a month’s time, but he has been getting on base with some hits and walks. Look for Morneau to break out a bit here and get at least one big knock.
Marlon Byrd – Just like in the wild card game, this is as far as Byrd has ever gotten and he doesn’t seem to let his inexperience get to him. Byrd will play a very important role for the team all the way through the World Series.
Pedro Alvarez – Pedro is the type of player who can pick a team up on his back and carry them to victory by hitting some long balls. It’s always good to see Pedro hitting to the opposite field because it means he is seeing the ball very well. Despite Pedro being the only starting player to not have a hit in the wild card round, look for him to break out during the division series.
BIG MOMENT PREDICTION: Someone on either team will hit a late inning homer that will propel them to win the entire series. My guess is Morneau.
SERIES PREDICTION: Pirates in FOUR games (Burnett WIN, Cole LOSS, Liriano WIN, Morton WIN)
Let’s go, Bucs!