Pirates-Cardinals Preview

The Pittsburgh Pirates are riding high after their first
postseason victory in 21 years. They’re confident they can beat
anybody, anywhere.

A few hours after defeating Cincinnati in the NL wild-card game
Tuesday night, the Pirates touched down in St. Louis. They’re about
to face another familiar foe in an unfamiliar month when they take
on the NL Central champion Cardinals in a best-of-five division
series.

”We know them, they know us,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle
said. ”There won’t be any ball tricks, I hope. No Statue of
Liberty plays.”

A.J. Burnett, set to start the series opener Thursday, was a
part of three New York Yankees teams that made it to October. He
said Wednesday there’s a sense of euphoria with this experience
that was lacking before.

”I guess the main thing is, over in New York, it’s expected
every year, you know?” Burnett said. ”You tend to get in there a
couple of weeks before the season ends. And this one was more of a
`Shock the world, we’re going to do it, we made it!”’

The Pirates won the season series 10-9, but the Cardinals
overtook them for the division lead with a four-game sweep at home
in early September. St. Louis also has quite an advantage in
postseason experience, with several holdovers from the 2011 World
Series championship team and from last year, too, when St. Louis
fell one win shy of a second straight pennant.

The Cardinals earned some time off after winning six in a row to
end the season. They won their first NL Central crown since 2009
and secured home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs.

Their .330 average with runners in scoring position was the
majors’ best dating to 1974, when the statistic was first used. So
far, they’ve done fine without injured Allen Craig, who missed
almost all of September and isn’t expected back from a left
mid-foot sprain until at least the NL championship series.

”We played really well most of the year minus a couple of dips
here and there that every team has,” said Matt Holliday, who
batted .378 over the final month to finish at .300. ”I’d say, just
try to roll that momentum into the postseason.”

Adam Wainwright has to like this matchup, too. St. Louis’ ace
will pitch the opener and would also be available on full rest for
a possible deciding Game 5. He went 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in three
starts against Pittsburgh this season.

Wainwright (19-9, 2.94 ERA) got rocked for 15 runs over eight
innings in consecutive starts against the Reds. One of them he
labeled, ”the worst start of my career,” before rebounding in the
win that put the Cardinals in first place to stay. He 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.

”Well, aside from Clayton Kershaw this year, I’d argue that you
could look at any single pitcher in the history of the game and
they’re going to have a bad game or two in the course of 35
starts,” Wainwright said.

”I didn’t need to do anything different. I just had a bad
day.”

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny described Wainwright, the third
pitcher in franchise history to lead the league in wins twice, as a
”fierce competitor.”

”All in all, a Cy Young-caliber season,” Matheny said. ”We’re
not afraid to put him on the mound against anybody.”

Burnett (10-11, 3.30 ERA) is 3-1 with a 3.67 ERA in his career
against the Cardinals, but the last time he faced them he gave up
five runs in three innings – his shortest outing of the year. In
two appearances at Busch Stadium, he allowed 12 runs in 13 1-3
innings.

”It’s just execution, that’s all it is,” Burnett said. ”It’s
a great lineup over there. You can’t make too many mistakes because
they’ll capitalize on them.

”The good ones I have limited those and the ones that got me, I
haven’t been able to execute.”

The Cardinals haven’t announced a starter after Lance Lynn, who
will face rookie Gerrit Cole in Game 2 on Friday. Matheny has three
strong candidates in Joe Kelly and rookies Shelby Miller and
Michael Wacha. The manager said Miller and Wacha would be available
in the bullpen for Game 1.

Miller led all rookies with 15 wins this year, Wacha was one out
shy of a no-hitter in his final regular-season start and Kelly was
10-5 with a 2.69 ERA.

Hurdle said Francisco Liriano, the winner in the wild-card game,
will start Game 3 on Sunday in Pittsburgh.