After all the jostling for position, all the times in and out of first place in the NL Central, all the times they've played each other this season and all the times we've wondered which is the better team — it comes down to one more game for the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals.
Game 5 of their NLDS series is Wednesday at 8:07 p.m. ET. Finally, for these two teams who know each other so well, it's do-or-die.
Wednesday's game is the 24th this season between the Pirates and the Cardinals, including the playoffs. They're 12-11, with Pittsburgh owning that one-game advantage. Another indicator of how close the two teams are — three runs, 102-99. That's their run count against each other this year, with the Cardinals holding that advantage.
But the season series and the runs scored in 23 previous games don't really matter now. They were all just a warm-up for this. One game. Most runs wins. It isn't about evening a season series for the Cardinals or scoring three more runs for the Pirates. This is about moving on to the NLCS, being one step away from the World Series.
On one side of this, Cardinals ace and Wednesday's starting pitcher Adam Wainwright:
"It's the biggest game of the year, isn't it? That's what I always tell these guys," Wainwright told reporters, including MLB.com's Joey Nowack. "Every start of mine is the biggest game of the year. It's a big-time game against a good opponent, and I'm looking forward to doing it."
On the other side, Pirates star and MVP candidate Andrew :
"You live for those situations," McCutchen told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "This is the game that we play. They didn't say it was going to be easy getting here to where we are. We've done a good job of getting in this position. We live for all those moments. Anything can happen in this game."
Yes, Cutch is right. Anything can happen. This postseason has already shown us that. But, hey, we wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't give you five storylines to watch for in Wednesday's game.
• Will it a blowout or a close one? In the Pirates and Cardinals 19 regular season meetings, 10 were won by five or more runs. Four of the others were decided by one run. The postseason has been somewhat similar — the first two games were blowouts (9-1 for the Cardinals in Game 1 and 7-1 for the Pirates in Game 2). But it's gotten closer since: The Pirates winning 5-3 in Game 4, then the Cardinals winning 2-1 in a tense Game 5.
• Will Adam Wainwright come through in Game 5 this time? Here's one bit of history, the Pirates wouldn't mind seeing repeated: Wainwright was lit up by the Washington Nationals in Game 5 of last season's NLDS. He gave up six runs in 2 1/3 innings. But here's the part the Cardinals liked about that game: They scored four runs in the ninth inning to win 9-7 and advance in the series.
• Can Gerrit Cole do it again? The Pirates are sending their 22-year-old rookie (pictured) to the mound in Game 5 rather than A.J. Burnett. Cole dazzled in his previous NLDS appearance, leading Pittsburgh to a Game 2 win. He pitched six innings and held the Cards to one run.
• Will Andrew McCutchen find his MVP moment? He's considered the favorite in the NL MVP race, and while he's hitting .357 in the series, he doesn't yet have a home run or RBI. He had the perfect moment in the ninth inning of Game 4, but didn't come through. Now, in a Game 5, can Cutch bring the clutch?
• Can Carlos Beltran further cement his postseason legacy? He has two homers and six RBIs in the series already, adding to an amazing postseason résumé that includes a .355/.464/.783 batting line plus 16 homers and 31 RBIs in 38 games.