National League Division Series Preview from The Sports Network|
Thursday, October 3rd
(All times Eastern)
Pittsburgh Pirates (1-0) at St. Louis Cardinals (0-0), 5:07 p.m.
Probable Starting Pitchers: Pittsburgh - A.J. Burnett (10-11, 3.30)
St. Louis - Adam Wainwright (19-9, 2.94)
(SportsNetwork.com) - It's been 21 long years since the Pittsburgh Pirates
have been in this position. Who can blame them for wanting to stick around a
Pittsburgh will continue its first postseason run since 1992 on Thursday when
they start the best-of-five National League Division Series against the St.
Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
"We know the Cardinals and they know us; there won't be any secrets," Pirates
second baseman Neil Walker said.
Of course, these teams are no stranger to one another, having played 19 times
in the regular season. In fact from June 21 on, it was essentially a two-horse
race for bragging rights in the NL Central before St. Louis eventually pulled
away from Pittsburgh and captured its first division title since 2009 by
virtue of a league-best 97-65 mark.
So, the Pirates had to settle for a wild card spot, despite finishing above
.500 (94-68) for the first time since that 1992 season. Nobody in the Steel
City was complaining, though, as they hadn't experienced postseason baseball
since Barry Bonds was roaming the outfield at Three Rivers Stadium.
And Pittsburgh rewarded its fans on Tuesday, as Francisco Liriano fired seven
innings of one-run ball and Russell Martin cracked a pair of solo home runs in
the Pirates' 6-2 win over Cincinnati in the NL wild card game.
"We didn't talk about one and done, we talked about one and run," Pirates
manager Clint Hurdle said. "Win one and run to St. Louis."
Pittsburgh had five All-Stars at this year's Midsummer Classic, but none
shined brighter than Andrew McCutchen, who continued to state his case as one
of the best young players in the game.
McCutchen hit .317 with 21 home runs, 84 RBI, 27 stolen bases, a .404 on-base
percentage and .508 slugging percentage in 157 games. He became just the
fourth major league center fielder since 1947 to have consecutive seasons of
hitting .300 with a .400 slugging percentage and .500 on-base-plus-slugging
percentage, joining Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Ken Griffey Jr.
Veteran right-hander A.J. Burnett will get the call for the Bucs in Game 1.
Burnett was only 10-11 this season, but pitched to a 3.03 ERA and is no
stranger to postseason baseball.
"It means a lot," Burnett said about getting the ball for Game 1. "I wouldn't
want it any other way. They've come a long way, these men in here. Step 2 was
tonight. We have a lot of work still to be done, a lot of games to be played.
It was a great win, a great step. Now we have to get ready for another
Burnett has pitched to a 5.08 ERA in seven postseason games, but is 1-0 with a
1.54 ERA in his two Division Series outings.
While Pittsburgh may be getting its first taste of postseason action since
1992, St. Louis is holding court in October for the third straight year and
for the 10th time in the last 14 seasons.
The Cardinals have won four playoff series in the past two seasons and have
claimed two World Series titles in the past seven years.
Amazingly, Mike Matheny's team keeps chugging along no matter what obstacles
seem to be thrown their way. The Cardinals also enter the postseason hot,
having won their last six games and 10 of the last 12 in the regular season.
McCutchen may be the NL frontrunner for an MVP, but the Cards have a pair of
candidates as well in catcher Yadier Molina and second baseman Matt Carpenter.
In addition to being the best defensive catcher in the game, Molina has also
become a more than capable bat in the lineup. This year, he hit .319 and drove
in 80 runs. Carpenter was a real surprise, though, as the rookie earned an
All-Star berth, hitting .318, while scoring a major league-best 126 runs.
"I don't know where we'd be without him -- having that leadoff hitter and
having the kind of season that he's having and what he's done defensively,"
Matheny said of Carpenter. "It's just off the charts, as far as how good he
has been and how much he's proven just what a solid baseball player he is --
no matter where we put him."
The key for St. Louis will be jumping out in front on a hot Pirates team that
seems to be gaining momentum by the day. And who better to do just that in
Game 1 than NL wins leader Adam Wainwright, who won 19 games this season and
pitched to a 3.00 ERA in three starts versus the Pirates.
Wainwright was 4-0 in his final five starts, working seven or more innings in
all of them except for a tuneup his last time out.
"All in all, a Cy Young-caliber season," Matheny said. "We're not afraid to
put him on the mound against anybody."
Pittsburgh narrowly won the season series, 10-9, but lost six of nine in St.
10/03 10:23:18 ET