Matthew Pouliot

Division Series - Pittsburgh Pirates v St Louis Cardinals - Game Five

Adam Wainwright will need to come up huge again in NLCS

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While they do have the advantage of staying home in St. Louis, the Cardinals won’t have long to rest following their NLDS victory on Wednesday night.

The Dodgers are coming to town on Friday, and they’re bringing their aces.

The Cardinals’ rotation is in flux after their five-game series, but the Dodgers face no such questions with Zack Greinke getting the ball on Friday and Clayton Kershaw following in Saturday’s Game 2. The Cardinals would seem to be at a clear disadvantage both days. The Game 1 starter is still unannounced, with NLDS Game 3 starter Joe Kelly, Game 2 starter Lance Lynn and rookie Shelby Miller all capable of pitching. Kelly would seem to be the favorite to get the nod.

After that, it’ll almost certainly be Michael Wacha in Game 2. With the way he’s throwing, he looks like the fourth-best starter in the series. Unfortunately, he’ll be going against the best in Kershaw.

The Cardinals will be in better shape when the series heads to L.A. Game 3 will pit Wainwright versus an iffy Hyun-Jin Ryu. The Dodgers have denied that there’s anything physically wrong with Ryu, but reports have suggested otherwise.

Game 4 figures to feature one of the guys who wasn’t picked from the Kelly-Lynn-Miller trio and Ricky Nolasco, who was passed over in Game 4 of the NLDS for Kershaw on short rest. That’s probably another advantage to the Cardinals, given Nolasco’s poor showing at the end of the season and lack of recent activity. Then it’s back to Greinke and Kershaw for the Dodgers, with Wainwright waiting in Game 7.

While seven-game series take unexpected twists and turns all of the time, it is pretty hard to see the Cardinals beating the Dodgers without winning both of Wainwright’s starts. Fortunately, Wainwright seems more than up to the task. He just finished off the Pirates with a 107-pitch complete game to improve to 4-0 with a 2.03 ERA and a ridiculous 57/7 K/BB ratio in 48 2/3 innings in the postseason. Including the two against the Pirates, the Cardinals have won each of his last seven starts dating back to the regular season, with Wainwright allowing a total of nine runs in that span.

Top-of-the-order struggles doom Pirates in NLDS

Division Series - Pittsburgh Pirates v St Louis Cardinals - Game Five
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It was the bats that failed the Pirates in the end. Starling Marte finished the NLDS 1-for-19 with one walk and a hit by pitch from the leadoff spot. Neil Walker, right behind him batting second, was 0-for-19 with two walks.

It’s tough to generate much offense when your top two hitters reach base a total of five times in five games.

Batting third, likely NL MVP Andrew McCutchen was 5-for-17 in the NLDS, but he never drove in a run. He hardly the chance. Justin Morneau also had five hits without an RBI. The Pirates’ fifth, sixth and seventh hitters did the damage, with Marlon Byrd, Pedro Alvarez and Russell Martin combining to drive in 13 of the Pirates’ 15 runs in the series.

There’s not really a whole lot the Pirates can take from this. The top two spots in the order weren’t problem areas this year. Despite his lousy walk rate, Marte had a .336 OBP while batting first and was 39-for-51 stealing bases, helping him scored 83 runs in 124 games.

Walker, ideally, is probably more of a No. 6 hitter, but his .256/.330/.477 line batting second is still a big improvement over the NL’s .262/.318/.392 line as a whole.

The Pirates will have to decide this winter whether to re-sign Morneau, Byrd and shortstop Clint Barmes or at least similar veteran facsimiles. They have Jose Tabata as a fallback right fielder, and he very quietly hit .282/.342/.429 in his 308 at-bats this year. They also have Jordy Mercer as a candidate to take over at shortstop. First base is the bigger problem area, and unless they want to shift Alvarez across the diamond (which doesn’t seem at all likely), they should add a free agent there, preferably one better than Morneau. Garrett Jones should be non-tendered.

The rest of the lineup will be back. McCutchen is under control through 2018. Walker and Alvarez are candidates for long-term deals. The Pirates should have plenty of flexibility this winter, what with A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, Barmes and Jones coming off the books and a likely attendance boost on the way in 2014. There’s no reason they can’t add a big free agent to their already potent mix.

No announcement yet from A’s on Game 5 starter

Division Series - Detroit Tigers v Oakland Athletics - Game One
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Bartolo Colon finished second in the AL in wins and ERA this year, but there’s increasing speculation that the A’s may pick Sonny Gray over him to make the Game 5 start against the Tigers.

Colon took the loss in Game 1 of the ALDS after giving up three runs in six innings, but it was hardly a bad outing. All three runs came in the first, and his defense didn’t help him out much in the frame.

Of course, Gray was terrific in Game 2, striking out nine over eight scoreless innings in what was just his 11th big-league start.

It doesn’t seem like it should be all that tough of a call for the A’s. As brilliant as Gray was, he’s not overpowering and the Tigers could well have better success dealing with his curve while seeing him for the second time in five days. Colon has been a rock all year and was especially good in September, going 4-1 with a 1.16 ERA and a 33/4 K/BB ratio in 31 innings. Besides, it’d be easier to go to Gray in relief if Colon gets into trouble than the other way around.

The announcement on the starter apparently won’t come down until tomorrow. The A’s held a conference call with reporters today, but didn’t disclose their choice.