All indications are the best-of-five National League Division Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates will be tightly fought.
The Pirates won 10 of the 19 games against the Cardinals during the regular season. They were one of four teams in the NL with a winning record against St. Louis. The other three were Arizona and playoff qualifiers Atlanta and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
A breakdown of the Cardinals and Pirates s they prepare for the series opener at 4:07 p.m. Thursday at Busch Stadium:
Adam Wainwright (19-9), Lance Lynn (15-10), Joe Kelly (10-5) and probably rookie Michael Wacha (4-1) will work the first four games. Shelby Miller (15-9) likely will be in the bullpen, since he was 0-4 with a 5.32 ERA against the Pirates. Wainwright will battle Pittsburgh veteran A.J. Burnett (10-11) in Game 1, and the Pirates also will go with rookie Gerrit Cole (10-7), Cardinals killer Francisco Liriano (16-8) and Charlie Morton (7-4). All four Cardinals starters enter the postseason on high notes, while the Pirates have to wonder what they will get out of Cole and Morton. Edge: Cardinals.
Rookies Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness and Kevin Siegrist have been rocks of relief, and the Cardinals got more out of Mujica (37 saves) than they ever could have dreamed. Rosenthal, however, will close in the postseason after Mujica slumped badly in September. If Miller is in the pen along with lefty Randy Choate and newcomer John Axford, the Cardinals should be covered. But the Pirates' bullpen has been among their greatest strengths. All-Star closer Jason Grilli (33 saves) missed all of August with a right forearm strain, but Mark Melancon (16 saves) stepped in and the Pirates never missed a beat. Vin Mazzaro, lefties Justin Wilson and Tony Watson, and Jeanmar Gomez also are on board: Edge: Pirates
St. Louis led the NL in runs scored with 783, while Pittsburgh ranked ninth with 634. The Cardinals, behind leadoff hitter and second baseman Matt Carpenter (.318, 11 home runs, 78 RBIs), left fielder Matt Holliday (.300-22-94) right fielder Carlos Beltran (.296-24-84), catcher Yadier Molina (.319-12-80) and first baseman Matt Adams (.284-17-51), can do lots of damage. Pittsburgh leans heavily on center fielder Andrew McCutchen (.317-21-84), third baseman Pedro Alvarez (.233-36-100), second baseman Neil Walker (.251-16-53) and left fielder Starling Marte (.280-12-35). First baseman Justin Morneau, a late-season acquisition, has playoff experience. But the Pirates can't measure up to the Cardinals' thunder: Edge: Cardinals
Arizona and the Cardinals had the fewest errors in the NL with 75, but the Cardinals have just three players who are considered above-average defenders in Molina, center fielder Jon Jay and shortstop Pete Kozma. The others? Well, they'll make the plays, but positioning is more important than range in their cases. McCutchen, Marte, shortstop Clint Barmes and catcher Russell Martin can change games on defense. The Pirates committed 106 errors, but they came on 270 more chances and they had 206 more assists than the Cardinals (1,924-1,718). Edge: Pirates
Kolten Wong, catcher Tony Cruz, outfielders Shane Robinson and Adron Chambers, and one of two infielders, Kozma or Daniel Descalso, will be on the Cardinals' bench. Wong, Chambers and Kozma are rookies who hit little in the regular season. The Pirates have pop with outfielders Travis Snider and Jose Tabata, catcher John Buck, first basemen Gaby Sanchez and Garrett Jones, and infielder Josh Harrison. Edge: Pirates
Mike Matheny has taken the Cardinals to the postseason in his first two years as manager, and they led the NL in wins this season (97) after being within one victory of a World Series berth in 2012. Pittsburgh's Clint Hurdle, in his fourth season, has helped breathe life into a moribund franchise that had not enjoyed a winning season since 1992, and he is a candidate for Manager of the Year. Edge: Even
Both teams have grit, a never-say die approach and a unified clubhouse free of distractions. The Cardinals have tons of postseason experience, but the Pirates are confident and were 10-9 against St. Louis in the regular season. Edge: Even.
David Wilhelm's pick: Close, very close. Cardinals in five.
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.