First Pitch: How the Pirates Could Advance to the NLCS Today

Back on September 8th, the Pittsburgh Pirates faced the St. Louis Cardinals in a matchup that saw Charlie Morton go up against Michael Wacha. The results weren’t good for the Pirates.

Morton went 1.2 innings, giving up five runs on six hits. It was one of the few bad starts he had in August and September combined. The Pirates were shut down by Wacha, who threw seven shutout innings, allowing two hits and two walks. The Cardinals ended up winning 9-2.

There are a few key differences between that game and the game we will see tomorrow that features the same pitchers. First, this game will be at PNC Park, while the September 8th game was in St. Louis. Then there’s the lineups. The game in September featured Garrett Jones instead of Starling Marte, and John Buck over Russell Martin. Tomorrow’s game will feature Martin and Marte. It will also feature an offense that has been red hot, compared to the early September offense from the Pirates, which was cold.

I’m not totally confident in the chances for the Pirates tomorrow. If you look at Charlie Morton’s numbers this year, there is only one team that he struggles against. That is St. Louis. This is the one matchup in the playoffs where I’m not confident in Morton. However, Morton does better at home than he does on the road, so I don’t think we’re going to see a blowout like last time. Michael Wacha also does worse on the road, with a 4.34 ERA. That’s a small sample of 18.2 innings, although his success against the Pirates this year is based on nine innings.

Because of the home/road splits, I think this game will be a lot closer than people think. And because I think it could be close, that will bring one strong factor of the Pirates into play: their ability to stay in games until the end. We saw this tonight. Carlos Beltran led the Cardinals back to tie the score twice against the Pirates, yet they still pulled ahead. We’ve seen this all year from the Pirates in games where they’ve had to battle back late to get a win.

This is a good Pirates team. In the past, the thinking was that if the Pirates were going up against a good starter, they stood no chance. That was true then, but it’s not true now. This is a team that is one win away from the NLCS. They won 94 games. Their offense is clicking right now, and they’re one of the best home teams in baseball. The Pirates can hang with any good team. I think tomorrow will be close, with the Cardinals having an edge on paper. However, as we’ve seen all year, if it’s close, the Pirates have a very real chance to win.

Links and Notes

**Pirates Take 2-1 Lead Over Cardinals: Five Key Moments From Tonight’s Win

**Why Russell Martin is the Pirates’ Early Postseason MVP

**Three Situations the Pirates Bench, Bullpen Could Prove Crucial

**Pirates/Cardinals Game Three Lineups – Liriano Has the Advantage

**Joe Kelly – Regression Candidate

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • http://allmyforeparents.blogspot.com Israel P.

    Pedro is hitting like a star. Russell Martin is a hero. Marlon Byrd is a hero.

    Andrew McCutchen is alot more quiet, just having regular days at the office. And hitting .538.

  • maguro

    At home or on the road, the Cards are a tough matchup for Morton because they can stack their lineup with lefthanded bats. Hurdle needs to have the hook ready early today, he can’t let the team fall behind by 4 or 5 runs before he takes action.

    • smurph

      If he’s going to throw that 2-seamer against LH hitters, it absolutely HAS to be on the edge of the strike zone or even out of the strike zone. Hopefully he will revert to his other pitches – 4-seamer, breaking ball to get left-handers out.

      • leadoff

        IMO, Martin has a lot to do with what Charlie does today, if the umpire does not give Charlie that inside edge to work with, Martin is the one that has to find another way to get those left handers out, but I do think getting those Cards left handers out are the keys to the game.

    • leadoff

      I think if you are depending on Hurdle having the hook ready early you are going to be disappointed, the Pirates will be lucky if he has the bullpen up before it is too late. IMO, this is a game that you do have to watch Moron closely, something I have no faith in Hurdle doing. The reason why! Because I do not believe he knows when his pitchers are done, depends too much on their input instead of knowing by watching his pitchers.
      When another pitcher does not give up very many runs against you, every run you give up is critical, depending on luck is a tough way to win, Hurdle has done it so far, but he is not alone, most of the managers in these post season games seem to have late hooks.

      • emjayinTN

        leadoff: Sometimes a Manager has to look at the stats. Cardinals against RHP in 2013 – .280, 2nd best in the majors; Cardinals against LHP in 2013 – .238, 27th in the majors. The only LHP we have who may or may not be able to throw would be Locke, and I am not even sure he is on the 25 for this series. Morton has earned the start, but can he keep it under control? He throws the two seamer and that can be an effective pitch for him if he is throwing it no faster than 91/92. That is where he gets the most inward and downward movement on the pitch. If he is throwing the 2 seamer at 94/95, forget it, just not enough movement.

        Either way, I would have Locke and my best lefty reliever/SP mentally ready to be called upon early. That would be Justin Wilson, a guy who is no stranger to pitching in big games. We could start Morton, and let them add another LH batter or two to the lineup, and then at the first sign of problems, be ready to come back lefty, lefty, lefty.

      • Andrew

        Your assessment is correct, there have been a plethora of example of manages slow to go to the bullpen, which does not make sense given the amount of off days. Clint Hurdle is just following the industry standard, I am not as critical of him but I am no less frustrated. I think there is a limit to the amount of innovation we can expect from Hurdle.

        This is not a good match, this might be the one game you would like to see Allan Craig and not Adams. Morton has never had a very good change up, in some respects he is similar to Burnett, and smurph is right about the Morton and location. If Hurdle goes with the slow hook maybe we will see some match ups out of the pen, slow hook plus long man might equal Wainwright in St. Louis.

        And can we get some production in front of McCutchen.

  • http://www.facebook.com/richard.yazhynka Richard Ya’Zhynka

    Morton was also dealing with an injury in the September 8 game and that may have contributed to his poor performance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ToddSm66 Todd Smith

    Kind of surprised they don’t just let AJ pitch on short rest, since he only went 2 innings in his first game. He’s much better at home against the Cardinals this year. Morton could come out of the pen in long relief if Aj wasn’t able to go deep into the game.

    • rsborelli

      I agree with you, Todd. But maybe they go reverse here? Hopefully Charlie has it going today. If not, first sign of big trouble, assuming he is available today, Burnett should be getting ready. Today is all about doing whatever necessary to avoid Game 5. Busch Stadium. And Adam Wainwright. I am also surprised the Cards are not going to Wainwright here on short rest. Maybe injury history or that dead arm period he went through a little while back contributing to that.