MLB Playoffs: Pirates must keep pace with Cardinals
No offense, Pittsburgh fans. Offense, in this case, refers to the ability to score runs.
That's what it comes down to in the Pirates' NLDS matchup against the NL Central-rival Cardinals, who tied for tops in baseball with 97 wins during the regular season.
Much of their success derives from the fact that St. Louis, which hosts Game 1 on Thursday (TBS, 5 p.m.), was the NL's top-scoring offense, averaging 4.8 runs per game.
Meanwhile, the Pirates are the lowest-scoring team in the postseason (3.9 runs per game).
Despite that disparity, Pittsburgh actually got the better of the NL Central champs in 2013, winning the season series 10-9. However, the Cardinals still outscored the Pirates by more than half a run per game.
What's kept the Pirates in these contests has been strong starting pitching, especially from front-line arms A.J. Burnett (10-11, 3.30 ERA) and Francisco Liriano (16-8, 3.02 ERA). Burnett went 3-1 in six starts against the Cardinals this season, while Liriano won all three of his outings with a 0.75 ERA.
Burnett has the misfortune of facing Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright (19-9, 2.94 ERA) in Game 1 -- and possibly Game 5 if it comes to that. Wainwright faced the Pirates three times since the All-Star break, going seven innings each time.
Wainwright and the rest of the staff will need to do a better job of keeping the ball in the park than they did throughout the season series. Pittsburgh out-homered the Cardinals, 19-5. Pirates catcher Russell Martin smashed six of his season-total 15 against St. Louis.
The Cardinals' Carlos Beltran (24 HRs) and Matt Holliday (22 HRs) have power, but they'll need to flex it more over the next week or so.
Expect home-field advantage to play a key role in this close series, with the Cardinals advancing in five.