Andrew McCutchen

NLDS Preview: Pirates vs. Cardinals

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You can’t predict baseball, but you can at least lay out the parameters. So let’s take a look at what the Pirates and Cardinals have in store for us in the National League Division Series.

The Teams

Pittsburgh Pirates (94-68) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (97-65)

The Matchups

Game 1 Today in St. Louis: A.J. Burnett vs. Adam Wainwright
Game 2 Friday in St. Louis: Gerrit Cole vs. Lance Lynn
Game 3 Sunday in Pittsburgh: Joe Kelly vs. Francisco Liriano
Game 4 (if necessary) Monday in Pittsburgh: Undecided vs. Charlie Morton
Game 5 (if necessary) Wednesday in St. Louis

Overview: 

These teams are certainly no strangers to each other, having battled all year for the NL Central crown. The Pirates won the season series 10-9, but the Cardinals took care of business against their other opponents better than the Pirates did, taking the flag. It did take work, however, as Pittsburgh was in first place much longer than the Cards were, with St. Louis only passing them up for good in mid-September. the Cardinals only passed up Pittsburgh for good in mid-September.

But they are very different in terms of postseason experience. The Cardinals have been in the playoffs ten times in the past 14 years. The Pirates, as you may have heard once or twice, are back in the dance for the first time since 1992. Pittsburgh is the ultimate Cinderella story with a bandwagon of fans which grows by the day. St. Louis, it seems, is being cast as something akin to the Yankees this fall. That overdog team which is in it every year and which people are, quite frankly, getting a bit tired of seeing.

Thing is, though: such a narrative is fun and all, but it’s less than illuminating or explanatory. Only three games separated these two clubs. While most will favor the Cards and root for the Pirates, this series is anything but a mismatch.

Storylines

  • Each of these teams has a legitimate MVP candidate: Yadier Molina for the Cards and Andrew McCutchen for the Pirates. Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter will likely have some votes thrown his way as well. But McCutchen may be the most likely to dominate in this series. He showed on Tuesday that being a playoff newbie meant little, reaching base in each of his first four plate appearances and scoring once. And he is probably champing at the bit for Game 1 to start: he has a career line of .429/.452/.750 against Adam Wainwright.
  • That said, Wainwright has been dominant in his home park, where he will likely start twice if the series goes five games.  Pirates starter A.J. Burnett, however, is no great shakes on the road and has been blown up in Bush Stadium in the past.
  • The Pirates like to run, especially with Starling Marte and McCutchen. Molina is one of the best in the business at gunning down base runners, however, so if Clint Hurdle is hellbent on making things happen on the base paths he could be in for a rude awakening.
  • The Cardinals have some roster flux: closer Edward Mujica is on the playoff roster but he has lost his closer job after a miserable September. First baseman Allen Craig is off the roster with a sprained foot.  But one of the hallmarks of the Cardinals for the past several years has been team depth. Every time someone leaves the team or goes down there is always someone there to take their place and the team tends to not miss a beat. Here we have Trevor Rosenthal filling in for Mujica, and as we saw in last year’s playoffs, Rosenthal can be dominant. In for Craig: Matt Adams, who did nothing other than hit .284/.335/.503 with 17 home runs in 319 plate appearances in 2013. The Cardinals don’t rebuild, they reload.
  • This series will be worth watching for the fans alone. PNC Park’s rowdiness clearly got the best of the Reds on Tuesday night and you can expect them to be just as crazy when this series gets to Pittsburgh over the weekend. Meanwhile, don’t think for a minute that the Cardinals’ self-proclaimed Best Fans in Baseball didn’t take notice and won’t do their best to amp up the noise a well. Between Cardinal red and Pirate black these games are gonna look more like college football crowds than baseball crowds.

Prediction

This series will be laden with more narrative storylines than any of the others this postseason, and most of them will put the Pirates in the more positive light. But ultimately, baseball games are decided on talent. While McCutchen is probably the best guy on the field in this series, this is not the NBA and one man can’t carry a team. Overall the Cardinals have the better lineup with fewer holes. They led the NL in on-base percentage, were third in slugging, were historically good hitting with runners in scoring position and led the league in runs scored. Even after Allen Craig went down in early September, the offense did not really miss a beat.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals rotation likely has the edge here too, if for no other reason than the Pirates best starter — Francisco Liriano — was used on Tuesday and will get only one start in this series. The Cardinals’ starters, meanwhile, combined for a 2.36 ERA in September. The Pirates probably have a slight edge in the bullpen and a huge edge in team defense, but I feel like the Cards have way too much firepower.

I’ll pick The Cardinals in Five.

Jose Reyes to begin a rehab assignment on Wednesday

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 18:  Jose Reyes #7 of the Colorado Rockies advances to second base on a wild throw from Starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann of the Washington Nationals during the first inning at Coors Field on August 18, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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Rockies shortstop will join Triple-A Albuquerque to begin a rehab assignment, manager Walt Weiss said on Tuesday, per MLB.com’s Thomas Harding. Reyes was suspended through May 31 for an offseason domestic violence incident, effectively a 51-game suspension.

During the offseason, Reyes allegedly grabbed his wife by the neck and shoved her into a sliding glass door in the midst of an argument. Reyes pled not gulity and the charges against him were eventually dropped because his wife was uncooperative with authorities. It is not uncommon for an abuser’s significant other to be uncooperative with authorities due to the fear of further retaliation if the abuser suffers any consequences, such as losing his job.

Reyes has spent the last two weeks getting into baseball shape at the Rockies’ spring training complex in Arizona and he’ll likely need another couple of weeks in the minors. Rookie shortstop Trevor Story has cooled off significantly since a blistering hot start to the season, but has still played well enough to warrant the Rockies not forcing him to concede his starting role to Reyes.

The Rockies acquired Reyes from the Blue Jays on July 28 last year along with Miguel Castro and two minor leaguers in exchange for Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins.

Padres catcher Christian Bethancourt just pitched, and he reached 96 MPH

PEORIA, AZ - FEBRUARY 26:  Catcher Christian Bethancourt #12 of the San Diego Padres poses for a portrait during spring training photo day at Peoria Sports Complex on February 26, 2016 in Peoria, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
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The Mariners’ offense ran roughshod over Padres starter James Shields on Tuesday afternoon, knocking him out after 2 2/3 innings. The right-hander surrendered 10 runs.

It didn’t get much better for the Padres from there. The Mariners would score twice more in the fourth and four times in the fifth to take a commanding 16-0 lead. The Padres clawed back for a trio of runs in the sixth and one more in the seventh, but the lead was essentially insurmountable.

Unsurprisingly, the Padres opted to use a position player to soak up at least one inning, so catcher Christian Bethancourt took the mound to begin the eighth. Bethancourt had trouble finding the strike zone, but he was consistently hitting the mid-90’s with his fastball, which was impressive. He sandwiched a pair of fly outs with a walk, but then he lost all semblance of control. He walked Norichika Aoki, then hit Seth Smith with a 59 MPH knuckleball. Yes, you read that right: a knuckleball.

Manager Andy Green relieved Bethancourt with infielder Alexi Amarista, and Bethancourt moved to second base. Amarista got Shawn O’Malley to ground out with the bases loaded to end the inning.

Though Bethancourt’s results weren’t the greatest, it was still fun to watch him pitch.

Dustin Ackley to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 19:  Dustin Ackley #29 of the New York Yankees slides into third base safe against the Oakland Athletics in the top of the six inning at O.co Coliseum on May 19, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Yankees 1B/OF will undergo season-ending surgery to repair the torn labrum in his right shoulder, Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reports. He suffered the shoulder injury on a slide during Sunday’s game against the Rays.

Ackley was having a tough year to begin with, as he owns a .148/.243/.148 triple-slash line with four RBI in 70 plate appearances.

Ackley, 28, will enter his third and final year of arbitration eligibility after the season, which likely means the Yankees will non-tender him. He’s earning $3.2 million this season.

James Shields lasts only 2 2/3 innings, gives up 10 runs to the Mariners

SEATTLE, WA - MAY 31:  Starting pitcher James Shields #33 of the San Diego Padres pitches against the Seattle Mariners in the first inning at Safeco Field on May 31, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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James Shields has had better afternoons. The Padres’ starter couldn’t make it out of the third inning on Tuesday, ultimately serving up 10 runs on eight hits and four walks with one strikeout in 2 2/3 innings. The Mariners plated one run in the first inning, six in the second, and three in the third against Shields.

The runs came via, in order: a Kyle Seager RBI single, a bases loaded walk to Robinson Cano, a Nelson Cruz two-run single, a three-run Seager home run, and a three-run Seth Smith home run. Things continued to get worse once Shields left, as reliever Luis Perdomo gave up a two-run home run to Franklin Gutierrez in the fourth to make it 12-0. In the fifth, Smith homered again with the bases empty, and Adam Lind later drilled a three-run shot, pushing the score to 16-0.

The White Sox were reportedly discussing a trade involving Shields with the Padres as recently as Sunday. Shields entered Tuesday’s start with a 3.06 ERA and a 56/23 K/BB ratio in 64 2/3 innings. Presumably, a team wouldn’t let one start affect its interest in a player, but Shields’ outing certainly doesn’t help.