Pedro Alvarez and Justin Morneau vs the RHP Heavy Cardinals

Pedro Alvarez went 2-for-4 with a key two run homer today. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Pedro Alvarez went 2-for-4 with a key two run homer today. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Coming into this series, a lot of people said that Pedro Alvarez could be the key for the Pittsburgh Pirates to beat the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals have a rotation full of right-handed starters, and only have two left-handed relievers in the bullpen. That’s a favorable matchup for Alvarez, who had an .842 OPS in 425 at-bats this year against right-handers, compared to a .537 OPS in 133 at-bats against lefties. Also, 33 of his 36 homers were against right-handers.

So far, Alvarez has been a key to the offense this series. His home run on Thursday was pretty meaningless, considering the Cardinals beat the Pirates by eight runs. Still, he was the only player to do any damage off Adam Wainwright.

Today Alvarez did damage, and this time his production was significant. The key to the offense today was when Alvarez hit a two run homer with two outs in the top of the third inning against Lance Lynn. That put the Pirates up 3-0 at the time, and gave them what would eventually be the winning run. In his prior at-bat, Alvarez had another big hit. He hit a one out double to left-center field, and later scored when Gerrit Cole collected a two out single. On the day, Alvarez went 2-for-4 with a walk and an RBI.

“The fact that I was responsible for the first three runs has nothing to do with it,” Pedro Alvarez said of his performance early in the game. “It’s the fact that we got some runs early and often throughout the game. That’s huge against a team like the Cardinals who there is never enough breathing room.”

Alvarez got a lot of attention prior to this series because he’s the biggest power threat in the lineup. But Justin Morneau can be just as big of an impact. Like Alvarez, Morneau can be a power threat, and struggles against left-handers. And today, Morneau was a big contributor on offense, going 2-for-5.

Justin Morneau hasn't done much with the Pirates, but made an impact today. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Justin Morneau hasn’t done much with the Pirates, but made an impact today. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Morneau’s first hit came two batters before Alvarez hit his home run. The first baseman went opposite field, lining a single over Daniel Descalso’s head at shortstop. He went opposite field again in the fifth inning, hitting a double off the wall in left-center field. That was immediately followed by a ground rule double by Marlon Byrd to bring Morneau in for his second run of the evening, and put the Pirates up 4-0. The Cardinals then showed respect to Alvarez by pitching around him, with Lance Lynn issuing a four pitch walk before being pulled for Sean Maness.

The Pirates haven’t seen a lot of production out of Morneau since acquiring him at the August waiver deadline. He hit for a .260/.370/.312 line in 92 plate appearances after the trade. However, he has shown the ability to hit right-handers this year (.819 OPS) and go on hot streaks, such as the one he saw in early August.

“We broke down his entire season and we saw what he was able to do in August, and, I mean, he hit pitches,” Clint Hurdle said after today’s game. “He hit velocity, he hit all of it, it just hasn’t played out as well for us at this point. But the intangibles and the fact that they get on track is going to help him a lot as well.”

With both players in the middle of the lineup, and the Cardinals lacking any lefty starters, Morneau and Alvarez could lead the Pirates to more early leads in this series. For that to happen, both players need to turn today’s production into one of their prolonged hot streaks.

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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