In St. Louis, we have come to expect this. The calendar flips over, the weather gets a little bite to it (usually), the days get shorter, and after most of MLB has gone home, the Cardinals are still going, playing on a sun-splashed field (because it rarely seems the NLDS is played in the evening for the Redbirds) and starting another World Series run.
That tradition continues today as the Cardinals and Pirates play Game 1 of the real postseason. Sure, the Pirates already played the Reds (and we are thankful, since that means there will be no Francisco Liriano sighting today) but a one-game play-in has nothing on a real playoff series. At least, that’s the hope.
It’s not the first time St. Louis has had to play a divisional rival in the postseason. We remember those battles with Houston and Milwaukee, taking the intensity of the regular season matchups to a new level. This is the first time that the Redbirds have faced off against a divisional foe in the first round, though. Being that they only changed that “can’t face someone from the same division” rule a couple of years ago, that’s not a surprise.
The Cardinals discussed their postseason roster yesterday. As I talked about in my post a couple of days ago, they have gone with a 13/12 split, with Pete Kozma, Shane Robinson, Adron Chambers, Tony Cruz and Kolten Wong backing up the regulars. It’s not a bench you can rely on for a late inning bolt of lightning, but if there’s a runner on second and a hit is needed, at least Robinson could come up and give the fanbase a bit of confidence that the job could be done.
While the Cards did go with 12 pitchers as expected, one of those pitchers was indeed Edward Mujica. As you would also expect, this set off waves of questioning and consternation. I can’t say that I’m any different–I’ve put it on record a number of places that I don’t believe you can put Mujica on the roster when you can’t trust him in anything but a blowout (and even that can be iffy, as we’ve seen). I can understand having a mop-up guy on the roster, but it does seem like a waste of resources when you have talented other pitchers that you can use in other situations. That said, many times Mike Matheny has made a questionable (or worse) decision only to see it play out beautifully. One can only hope this will happen the same way.
You’ve got Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha available out of the pen today, though most likely one of them will start a game in Pittsburgh. Matheny could play this a couple of different ways. If the Cards win the first two games, he could send out the rookie (whichever it may be) against Liriano in Game 3, figuring that the Cards are probably going to lose that one anyway, then save Joe Kelly for Game 4 and a clincher. If the Cards split the first two or (horror of horrors) lose them both, Kelly might go in Game 3 to stem the bleeding if possible, though that could mean Miller or Wacha starting an elimination game. We’ll see who, if either, he uses out of the ‘pen today, as that would seem to eliminate them from a start in the Steel City.
Bernie Miklasz writes today that everyone will be rooting for the Pirates outside of Cardinal Nation. The way it is written, it’s almost like he thinks this is a unique situation, that it’s the lovable Pirates story that has everyone going against the Cards. That certainly helps, but if you follow people on Twitter from other fan bases, they are usually rooting against the Cardinals anyway. There’s still a lingering dislike of them due to Tony La Russa plus they are always there. Familiarity breeds contempt–a strong reason why the Yankees are so despised. The Cardinals are the Yankees of the National League and that gets reflected when people are rooting in a series where their team isn’t involved.
Game 1 starts at 4:00 PM this afternoon, meaning that the legendary “shadows” will be in play for this one. It’s only supposed to be partly cloudy at game time, so there are probably going to be a good number of them. Adam Wainwright will be the first pitcher to take the bump, facing a Pirates team that he’s gotten familiar with over the season. Normally in these previews, we take a look at the history the players have with the pitcher throughout their career. I’m going to limit it for this series to just 2013, since there’s enough there to get a feel for how things are going right now.
Wainwright didn’t face the Pirates until July 31, so there are only three matchups to look at.
July 31: 7 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 6 K, 1 BB (no decision in Cards loss at Pittsburgh)
August 13: 7 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 6 K, 3 BB (no decision in Cards win at Busch)
September 7: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 8 K, 2 BB (win at Busch)
Waino’s gotten better each time he faced the Bucs and has done his best work at Busch against them as well. (He’s been pretty darn good at Busch against everyone, posting a 2.53 ERA in 17 starts.) What the Pirates hitters have done against him this season:
Wainwright did allow three homers to Pittsburgh batters, though he allowed 15 overall during the season so that’s not especially out of line. Given all the circumstances, it looks like a tough day for the Pirates. Then again, I think all the easy days for every team stopped with game 162.
With Liriano going in the wild-card game, the Pirates turn to A.J. Burnett. The question is, which Burnett are they turning to?
April 17: 7 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 8 K, 0 BB (win at Busch)
April 27: 6 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 6 K, 3 BB (win at PNC)
July 30: 7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 9 K, 3 BB (win at PNC)
August 15: 4.1 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 4 K, 1 BB (no decision in loss at Busch)
August 31: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 6 K, 1 BB (win at PNC)
September 6: 3 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 4 K, 1 BB (loss at Busch)
Save that first start, Burnett was much better at home than he was on the road when these two teams matched up. Those 10 earned runs in his last 7.1 innings at Busch definitely would make Cardinal fans get excited, especially since he won’t pitch at PNC Park in this series unless he comes back on short rest for Game 4. If that Burnett is the one that shows today, it should be a great way for the Cards to get off on the right foot. If the other Burnett, the one that showed in April and at PNC, is the one on the mound, this could be a tight one all the way to the end.
Even with those outbursts, the numbers aren’t that overwhelming for 2013. That’s the effect of the small sample size–he faced more batters in the good games to overshadow what he did in the blowouts.
St. Louis will be in postseason form this afternoon. For those that are going, enjoy and bring home a winner. For the rest of us, we’ve got KMOX and TBS, assuming you can sneak either of those at work for the first part of the game. Let’s go Cardinals!