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2013 NLDS Preview: Pirates vs. Cardinals

Andrew Tweedy |
October 3, 2013 | 4:18 a.m. PDT

Staff Writer

The Cardinals' staff will be headed by Adam Wainwright.  (Harsh1.0/Creative Commons)
The Cardinals' staff will be headed by Adam Wainwright. (Harsh1.0/Creative Commons)
Even though the Cardinals and Pirates have been playing professional baseball since 1882, these two teams have never met in the playoffs, making this matchup very intriguing on a historical level. However, these two teams were no strangers to one another in the regular season. They met 19 times this season, with the Pirates having the 10-9 advantage even though they were outscored by the Cardinals 87-85. Needless to say, this is shaping up to be a very evenly-matched series and the winner will definitely have to earn their way to the NLCS.

Here are the storylines to watch, the X factors, the biggest concerns for each team, and my pick to win the series.

Pirates' storyline to watch: Back in the postseason for the first time in over 20 years, it's going to be a party in Pittsburgh.

After more than two decades stuck in the basement of the National League, the Bucs have reached the playoffs for the first time since the Atlanta Braves walked off in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS against Stan Belinda and the NL East Champion Pirates. This Pirates club couldn't be happier to be here, and they looked ready to make an October splash after their 6-2 win over the Reds in the wild card play-in game on Tuesday. It will be interesting to see how far this club can carry themselves and their championship-starved city through the playoffs this year after practically a generation's worth of consecutive losing seasons.

Cardinals' storyline to watch: Staff ace Chris Carpenter will not be pitching for the Cardinals this postseason. How will the staff fare without him?

Ever since his first career postseason start for the Cardinals in 2005, Carpenter has been solid in October, posting an overall postseason record of 10-4 with a 3.00 ERA and leading his team to World Series Championships in both 2006 and 2011. Bothered by nerve injuries in his throwing arm, Carpenter has yet to throw a pitch in the 2013 season, and that will continue through the playoffs, as he is shut down from baseball activities. He will travel with the team as a clubhouse leader and mentor to younger pitchers, but the Cards will have to rely on Adam Wainwright to continue his solid season through the playoffs. We'll see if he's up for the task.

Pedro Alvarez has become one of the game's elite power hitters. (Scott Michaels/Creative Commons)
Pedro Alvarez has become one of the game's elite power hitters. (Scott Michaels/Creative Commons)

SEE MORE: 2013 NLDS Preview: Dodgers vs. Braves

Pirates' X Factor: Pedro Alvarez

When he goes, they go. While Alvarez is nothing special on defense and does not provide much on the basepaths, the man has some serious pop. He tied Paul Goldschmidt for the most home runs in the National League this year with 36, and his power is where the Pirates get value out of him. If he is able to contribute late in games with a couple clutch homers, he could power the Bucs to a series win

Cardinals' X Factor: Bench Players

Any way you look at it, the Birds' bench is pretty thin right now. With Allen Craig scheduled to sit throughout the NLDS with a lingering Lisfranc injury, Matt Adams has been forced into the starting lineup, taking a quality bat off the bench that proved valuable throughout the season in late in games. With Adron Chambers, Shane Robinson, Pete Kozma, Kolten Wong, and Tony Cruz rounding out the Cardinals bench, don't expect too much production from them, but if they can provide solid defense and maybe even some timely hitting, they could make an impact on the outcome of the series.

Biggest Concern for the Pirates: Facing Adam Wainwright

The Pirates have been mediocre at best this season against right handed pitching, posting a combined slash line of .241/.309/.393/.702. With the Cardinals' rotation most likely set up to be all righties for the series, the likelihood of even pushing the series to 5 games is low if they can't hit against the starters. However, even if they do force a game 5 in St. Louis, they will likely face ace of the staff, Adam Wainwright, for the second time in the series and beating him in an elimination game will be no easy task after he went 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA and 21 IP in 3 games versus the Pirates this year.

Biggest Concern for the Cardinals: Bullpen

The unexpected collapse of All-Star closer Edward Mujica down the stretch has created an unexpected hole in this team's bullpen. However, it may not turn out so bad for the Cardinals if rookie relievers Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, and Michael Wacha can step up out of the 'pen and provide manager Mike Matheny with some quality innings late in games.

The Bucs stop here: And after much deliberation, I pick the Cardinals to crash the Pirates' party and take this one in 5.


Reach Staff Reporter Andrew Tweedy here. Follow @nyy_baseball



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