COMMENTARY | After not playing for three days, the St. Louis Cardinals need to set the tone in a series that may present the greatest threat to their World Series aspirations in 2013.
The hype and excitement of winning their first playoff game in more than 20 years has the Pittsburgh Pirates energized.If the Cardinals want to advance, they need these five keys to the game to come true:
Adam Wainwright must set the tone from the beginning. On two consecutive starts against the Cincinnati Reds on August 28 and September 2, Wainwright allowed a total of 15 earned runs. Thirteen runs were scored in the first two innings alone. With the Pirates' engines running at maximum capacity straight out of the gate, that can't happen in Game 1 of the National League Division Series. He needs to come out attacking hitters and setting a tone that screams, "I'm in control of this ballgame, and there's no way you're taking it away from me."
Just for the record, Wainwright had three starts against Pittsburgh this season and allowed just seven earned runs total in those games. Four of those runs were allowed in one start in PNC Park. The familiar atmosphere at Busch Stadium should set the stage for another Waino gem.
Matt Holliday must continue hitting the ball like he did in September. With Allen Craig out of the picture, it's time for Holliday to carry this Cardinals team in the postseason. In the 2012 postseason run, Holliday hit an atrocious .224 with a .296 OBP and a .306 slugging percentage. That performance included an anemic .176 average with runners in scoring position. The Cardinals cannot afford a repeat of last year.
Fortunately, for St. Louis, he seems to be trending up, if his numbers in the last month of the season are any indication. His .378 average and .485 on-base percentage were easily the highest marks of any month in 2013, and his four home runs and 23 RBIs were essential in winning the NL Central title down the stretch.
But Holliday's been off for four days and could be at risk of falling into another one of his infamous slumps, especially if his back issues flare up again. The Cardinals lineup needs their number three hitter to carry the load this year.
Matt Adams must adjust to A.J. Burnett's approach and stay within his game. The biggest story for the Redbirds has to be the loss of All-Star cleanup hitter Allen Craig. His numbers with runners in scoring position are overwhelming (.454). But Adams has been successful stepping in for Craig at first base and the No. 4 hole for one simple reason -- he didn't try to be Allen Craig.
Adams has a bat capable of hitting .300 at the major leagues someday, assuming he can make the necessary adjustments throughout his career, but his calling card is power -- pure, country-mile power. With eight home runs in September alone, it looks like he knows it, too.
Of course, Adams is young, and Burnett has owned him in 2013. In 9 at-bats against the Pirates hurler, Adams has one hit (a single), four strikeouts and no walks. For those keeping track, that's a slash line of .111/.111/.111 with an OPS of .222. While the symmetry is nice, the Redbirds need Adams to make adjustments and contribute to an offensive effort that's sure to be short on power against a pitcher that's held them to zero home runs in 127 at-bats this season.
Yeah, you read that right. In 127 at-bats against the Cardinals this season, A.J. Burnett has allowed a whopping total of zero home runs. Wrecking that number would go a long way to securing a victory in Game 1, and Matt "Big City" Adams stands the best chance of doing it.
Matt Carpenter and Carlos Beltran must set the table for Holliday and Adams. The Nos. 1 and 2 hitters for the Cardinals each went 5-for-14 for a .357 average against Pirates starter A.J. Burnett in 2013, but Beltran and Carpenter enter today's game from very different directions.
Beltran's late-season fades his last two years in St. Louis have become a second-half expectation for the Cardinals, but his career postseason numbers buck the trend. In three seasons of postseason competition, Beltran has posted a .363/.470/.782 slash line with 14 home runs (three each in 2012 and 2006) and 25 RBIs. The Redbirds need more of the same from their future Hall of Fame hitter.
In Matt Carpenter's case, the Cardinals need a simple return to normalcy.
The last three games of the season became a mad dash for 200 hits for the St. Louis second baseman. As a result, he went just 1-for-14 with 199 hits. He clearly changed his approach in an attempt to make history. The Cardinals need him to put the last few games behind him, get his swing back and continue getting on base in front of the big bats in Beltran, Holliday and Adams.
The St. Louis young guns must hold down the backend of the bullpen. If Adam Wainwright leaves this game with a lead in the seventh inning or later, recent trends suggest the Cardinals will then hand the game over to four young pitchers with a total of seven postseason games between them. Trevor Rosenthal -- new closer to replace deposed closer Edward Mujica -- has all of them.
Carlos Martinez, Kevin Siegrist and double-play master Seth Maness have never even sniffed the MLB postseason, and now they'll be asked to nail down the seventh, eighth and ninth innings of playoff games for the National League's best team in their rookie seasons. Expect veteran relievers Randy Choate (seven postseason games) and John Axford (six postseason games) to play critical roles mentoring and backing up the baby birds in the pen.
Kevin Reynolds is the author of Stl Cards 'N Stuff and host of The State of the Nation Address podcast at Stl Cards 'N Stuff. He's been writing and podcasting about the St. Louis Cardinals since 2007 and can be found chatting about baseball on Twitter (@deckacards).
- Sports & Recreation
- the Cardinals
- Adam Wainwright
- Matt Adams
- Matt Holliday
- Carlos Beltran
- Allen Craig
- Matt Carpenter