PITTSBURGH– It’s the final week of the regular season and the NL Central division is up for grabs. Baseball’s two best teams will meet in their final series of the regular season, a series in which the two teams have split their first 16 match-ups. The atmosphere should be electric at PNC Park.
The Pirates’ final pursuit to chase down St. Louis and win the NL Central division title hits full stride tonight, as they take on the first-place Cardinals in a crucial three-game set. The Pirates head into the showdown three games behind the Cardinals, making it likely that they will need to win all three games to have a realistic shot at winning the division.
It’s a lot to ask, considering the only time St. Louis has been swept all season was in a mini two game series against the White Sox at the end of June. However, are the Pirates catching the Cardinals at the perfect time?
St. Louis has dealt with a slew of injuries to key personnel all season long and have impressively persevered through the adversity. However, they recently lost their gold glove catcher and widely regarded team MVP Yadier Molina to a thumb injury. Molina’s management of the Cardinals’ pitching staff has been well documented, and he’s shut down the opposition’s run game by throwing out 59% of would be base stealers this season. The Cardinals are 13-14 when back-up catcher Tony Cruz starts, as opposed to 85-46 with Molina behind the plate.
“It’s not like they’ve gone on a tailspin since Molina has gone out,” Clint Hurdle said – the Cardinals are 5-2 since Molina’s injury.
“It’ll be a little different for us,” Hurdle continued “It’ll be an opportunity for us to open some things up that maybe we wouldn’t. As far as pitch calling, sequencing, he’s(Cruz) a capable guy. He’s a major league guy, but he’s not the other guy and not many people are.”
Look for the Pirates to be more aggressive on the base paths in this series against Cruz, who has thrown out only 17% of would be base stealers.
Ramirez Out, Harrison In
Aramis Ramirez is not in tonight’s starting lineup, as Josh Harrison will play third base and bat second against Cardinals’ starter Lance Lynn.
The Pirates have been adamant about giving Ramirez games off after travel days in order to keep him as fresh as possible, however tonight’s match-up may have also played a major role in that decision. Ramirez has struggled against Lance Lynn in his career – a .103 batting average in 29 at-bats, while Josh Harrison has a .368 batting average in 19 at-bats against Lynn.
Overall, the Pirates have been a tough match-up for Lynn. Along with Harrison, Starling Marte is hitting .381 in 21 at-bats, Jordy Mercer has a .467 average in 15 at-bats and Neil Walker is hitting .368 in 38 at-bats. The Pirates have punished the fastball-heavy pitcher – he has a 5.00 ERA in 90 innings against them.