Looking ahead to NLDS Game 3: Cardinals-Pirates

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PNC Park hosted its first-ever postseason game last Tuesday night and the Pirates rose to the occasion in front of a rambunctious, black-shirt-wearing home crowd, securing the National League Wild Card with a decisive 6-2 defeat of the Reds. Now the stakes are raised with the NL Central-champion Cardinals in town for Game 3 of this 1-1 best-of-five NLDS.

The broadcast begins at 4:30 p.m. ET on TBS.

Pirates starter Francisco Liriano was brilliant in the Wild Card win versus Cincinnati, scattering four hits and one run over seven dominant innings. He faced the Cardinals three times during the 2013 regular season and was even more lights-out, going 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA, 0.63 WHIP and 20/5 K/BB ratio in 24 total frames. All signs point to the 29-year-old left-hander giving another memorable performance on Sunday, though this sport tends to laugh at such certainties.

Taking the mound for St. Louis will be 25-year-old right-hander Joe Kelly, who had an excellent stretch in the Cardinals’ rotation between early June and late August and actually finished with a better regular-season ERA (2.69) than Liriano (3.02). Kelly has a fastball that can reach into the high-90s and decent breaking stuff, but he doesn’t have great command of that arsenal and he doesn’t rack up many strikeouts. Pair that with the poor St. Louis defense and the Cardinals are susceptible to some ugly innings when Kelly is on the mound.

Pittsburgh’s offense had a big day in Friday’s 7-1 Game 2 victory at Busch Stadium and the Cardinals scored nine runs Thursday in their 9-1 Game 1 win. We’re due for a nail-biter in Game 3, right?

Video: Max Scherzer sets record with 13-strikeout outing

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Max Scherzer is a force to be reckoned with. The Nationals’ right-hander delivered a season-high 13 strikeouts against the Padres on Friday, locking down his fifth win and his fourth double-digit strikeout performance of the year.

More remarkably, it was also the 53rd double-digit strikeout performance of Scherzer’s career, tying Clayton Kershaw for the most 10+ strikeout appearances by an active major league pitcher. Chris Sale is a distant third, with 43 to his name, though he’s been making considerable strides to catch up so far this spring.

Scherzer took the Padres to task on Friday night, whiffing 13 of 31 batters during his 108-pitch outing. He started strong, catching Allen Cordoba swinging on a 1-2 count to start the game and keeping the game scoreless until Ryan Schimpf unleashed a home run in the fourth inning. That was the first and final run the Padres managed off of Scherzer, who retired 14 consecutive batters following the blast and came one out shy of a complete game in the ninth inning. (Fittingly, Koda Glover polished off the win with a final strikeout, bringing the total to 14 on the night.)

It’ll take more than one stellar start to advance Scherzer and Kershaw on the all-time list, however. Their 53-game record ranks 13th, about 159 games behind second-place Hall of Fame hurler Randy Johnson and a full 162 games shy of the inimitable Nolan Ryan.

Twins’ top prospect Nick Burdi will undergo Tommy John surgery

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Twins’ right-hander Nick Burdi is set to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, the team announced on Friday. Burdi made 14 appearances for Double-A Chattanooga before succumbing to a torn ulnar collateral ligament and is not expected to make his major league debut until mid-2018 at the earliest. A UCL tear doesn’t always require Tommy John surgery — less severe cases can be treated with platelet-rich plasma injections, for example — but Twins’ chief baseball officer Derek Falvey told the press that surgery was unavoidable as Burdi had sustained a “full thickness tear” in his elbow.

Entering the 2016 season, Burdi was widely considered a top ten prospect in the Twins’ system. His exceptional velocity and potent fastball-slider combo made him a fearsome relief option as he came off of his first season in Double-A Chattanooga in 2015. During the 2016 season, however, the 24-year-old experienced a significant setback after a bone bruise cut his season short in late July. Prior to Friday’s diagnosis, he appeared to be staging an impressive comeback with the Chattanooga Lookouts this spring, decorating his efforts with a sparkling 0.53 ERA, 2.1 BB/9 and 10.6 SO/9 over 17 innings.

It’s a tough break for the Twins, whose farm system was ranked 21st in the league by Baseball America. “Obviously he’s proven when he’s healthy he’s an absolute premium prospect, and the Twins are treating him that way,” Burdi’s agent, Matt Sosnick, told Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press. “We just want to make sure everything we do ultimately leads to the goal of getting him back on the field as quickly as he can.”