The first pitching matchup between the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates this weekend involved a pair of stellar young starters, while the second was a rematch of a tightly contested game in the 2013 postseason.
The pairing for the finale appears to be a bit more of a mismatch.
Adam Wainwright takes the hill against the Pirates for the first time since knocking them out of the playoffs Sunday as he's opposed by Edinson Volquez, the free agent pickup Pittsburgh hopes can harness his often shaky command at the back of its rotation.
Wainwright went 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in three regular-season starts against the Pirates (3-2) last season, but he was the difference between the otherwise evenly matched clubs in the NL division series. The Cy Young runner-up gave up three hits over seven innings in a 9-1 victory in Game 1, then went the distance in the decisive Game 5 as the Cardinals won 6-1.
"Every time we turned around, Wainwright got in the way," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said back in October.
Wainwright lost his final three postseason starts - two in the World Series - with a 3.79 ERA, but had no issues on opening day in Cincinnati. The right-hander held the Reds to three hits and four walks while fanning nine over seven innings in a 1-0 victory.
"It was me wanting to go out there and set the tone better than I did in the World Series," Wainwright told the Cardinals' official website. "... I wanted to come out here and pitch a good game and set the tone for the rest of the season moving forward."
Gerrit Cole got the best of Shelby Miller on Friday as Pittsburgh won the opener, but St. Louis (3-2) jumped all over the Pirates' No. 1 starter on Saturday. Francisco Liriano threw 33 pitches in the opening frame as the Cardinals put up three quick runs, while Joe Kelly was solid in a 6-1 victory that was a rematch of Game 3 of the NLDS.
The Cardinals are still only batting .200 after collecting eight hits Saturday, but they might have a good chance to bump up that average Sunday as Volquez makes his first start for Pittsburgh.
The Pirates gave the right-hander a one-year, $5 million deal hoping he could win the fifth starter's job despite going 9-12 with a 5.71 ERA last season in stints with San Diego and the Los Angeles Dodgers - the worst of the 81 qualifying pitchers.
Volquez also walked 4.07 batters per nine innings - third-worst in the majors - and issued six free passes in 13 spring innings while allowing 15 runs. But he looked composed in his first appearance in black and gold Thursday, tossing two scoreless innings while allowing just one single and striking out two in relief against the Cubs.
"We've seen the pitches improve throughout camp and into the season," Hurdle told the Pirates' official website. "His focus is good; he is a hungry man that wants to do well, and he's got a little edge to him because last year was hard for him. Nobody wants to be the weakest link. He has tasted success in the past, so he does know what it feels like."
Volquez walked only two over 11 innings in two starts against the Cardinals last season - both with the Padres - but gave up eight runs.
Matt Holliday is 8 for 20 with a pair of homers lifetime off Volquez while Yadier Molina is 3 for 21 with five strikeouts.
Leadoff hitter Starling Marte went 1 for 13 against Wainwright last season, and the middle of the order wasn't much better. Pedro Alvarez, Russell Martin and Neil Walker - Pittsburgh's 4-5-6 hitters - were a combined 6 for 41 (.146) with 12 strikeouts.