ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals finished the regular season with a six-game winning streak and stole the best record away from the Atlanta Braves in the National League. And now they'll resume competition in the playoffs against one of baseball's hottest teams. The Pirates, fresh off a wild-card win over the Reds, will begin the NL Division Series on Thursday in St. Louis. Pittsburgh won 10 of the teams' 19 regular-season meetings. The Cardinals lost four games out of five in Pittsburgh in a difficult late-July stretch, then dropped two of three when they returned to PNC Park a month later. However, they made a strong statement against the Pirates in an early September series in St. Louis, taking all three games and outscoring the Pirates, 26-10. One Pittsburgh hitter they haven't been able to do much with is catcher Russell Martin, who hit six homers and batted .300 against them despite hitting not much above .200 against everybody else. He homered twice in the Pirates' wild-card win. With Francisco Liriano earning the win Tuesday, the Cardinals won't be subjected to him until Game 3 of the NLDS. Liriano beat the Cardinals in three consecutive second-half starts, two of them in Pittsburgh, giving up only two runs in 24 innings. The Cardinals' offense will be without 97-RBI man Allen Craig in the first round as Craig tries to heal from a mid-foot sprain in his left foot. However, rookie first baseman Matt Adams hit eight homers in September to take up some of the slack. The problem with Adams playing is that the Cardinals have virtually no bench. The five players likely to be on it have combined for three home runs and two of them haven't driven in a run. Playoff seasoned veteran Adam Wainwright, a 19-game winner for the third time (he won 20 once), will get the first-game start. Lance Lynn will pitch Game 2. "We like the way he's been rolling. We have some good options, and feel good with any of the guys out there on any day. Right now that's the way we decided to go." Shelby Miller is likely to follow, with rookie Michael Wacha a possibility for a fourth game with versatile Joe Kelly available in the bullpen. However, Kelly could be in the rotation against Pittsburgh, a team he beat three times in a row. He owned a 0.64 ERA in 14 innings at PNC Park this season. Edward Mujica, a bulwark for most of the season when he earned 37 saves in 41 tries, was replaced as closer in September. Mujica, who has given up 10 runs in his last 10 innings, has given away to the youth brigade, headed by Trevor Rosenthal, who had three saves in a row down the stretch.
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