Looking ahead: Scouting the St. Louis Cardinals
By Joe Rutter
Published: Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
After dispatching Cincinnati in the National League wild-card game, the Pirates will continue to hunt for red in October when they begin an NL Division Series on Thursday in St. Louis against the top-seeded Cardinals.
Games 1 and 2 are Thursday and Friday at Busch Stadium before the best-of-five series visits PNC Park on Sunday for Game 3.
The Cardinals finished the regular season with a six-game winning streak that gave them a 97-65 record, catapulting St. Louis to the best record in the league, assuring it of home-field advantage for every round until the World Series.
St. Louis is particularly formidable at home. The Cardinals won 20 of their final 23 games at Busch Stadium dating to Aug. 11. This is the third consecutive postseason appearance and 11th in the past 18 years for the Cardinals.
Cardinals starters led the NL with 77 wins, and their 3.42 ERA ranked second. Ace Adam Wainwright is set to start Game 1. Wainwright tied for the NL league with 19 wins, and his 2.94 ERA ranked seventh in the circuit. He also was the league's workhorse, pitching an NL-high 2412⁄3 innings.
Three other Cardinals starters reached double figures in wins: Lance Lynn (15), Shelby Miller (15) and Joe Kelly (10). Kelly did it despite not picking up his first win until July 12.
Miller was sensational down the stretch, going 3-0 with a 2.76 ERA in September. And Michael Wacha isn't guaranteed a rotation spot, even though he came within one out of pitching a no-hitter in his final start.
The bullpen's 3.45 ERA placed the Cardinals in the middle of the NL pack, but the late innings are fluid because of a September meltdown by Edward Mujica. He converted his first 21 save opportunities and finished 37 of 41, but thanks to an 11.05 ERA in September, he lost his closer's job to Trevor Rosenthal. In the final week of the season, Rosenthal saved three consecutive games against Washington that helped the Cardinals in the division race.
In late August, the Cardinals acquired veteran John Axford from Milwaukee to provide consistency in a setup role. Rookie Kevin Siegrist has a 242⁄3 scoreless-innings streak, and he hasn't given up a run at home the entire season, spanning 24 outings.
The key to the Cardinals is getting runners on base. When that occurs, good things usually happen. The Cardinals had a .330 batting average with runners in scoring position. Not only is that the best mark in the majors in at least 40 years, the next-closest team this season (Detroit) trailed by 48 points.
The catalyst is leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter, who finished with 199 hits and a .318 batting average while being mentioned as an MVP candidate. His 55 doubles set a franchise record for a left-handed hitter. The previous record holder? Stan Musial with 53 in 1953.
Allen Craig hasn't played since Sept. 4 because of a left-foot sprain, and he likely won't play in the division series. The Cardinals, though, hardly missed a beat. His replacement, Slippery Rock product Matt Adams, batted .326 with eight homers and 15 RBI since Craig's injury.
Catcher Yadier Molina batted .319 and drove in 80 runs, and outfielder Carlos Beltran owns a .363 batting average with 14 home runs and 25 RBI in 34 career postseason games.
Yadier Molina is considered perhaps the best defensive catcher in baseball. He sets the tone for a team that had a franchise-low 75 errors and the highest fielding percentage (.988) in team history. Those numbers, however, can be misleading.
In defense-efficiency rating, which measures the effectiveness of teams converting batted balls into outs, the Cardinals were tied for ninth in the NL.
When Matt Adams stepped into the lineup to replace ailing first baseman Allen Craig, it weakened an already-thin bench. The remaining players totaled just four homers — none as pinch hitters — and the Cardinals' .201 batting average in pinch-hitting situations was the lowest in the league.
Experience favors the Cardinals — at least everywhere but the mound. All eight regular position players were on the 2012 team that advanced to the NLCS, although Matt Adams is stepping in for the injured Allen Craig. Manager Mike Matheny is the eighth skipper in MLB history to reach the postseason in his first two seasons.
The pitchers aren't as postseason-tested as the hitters, as the Cardinals relied on 37 wins from rookies this season. This will be the first time many have pitched under the October spotlight.
The Cardinals also have a passionate fan base that makes for a formidable home-field advantage. Little wonder that the Cardinals went 54-27 at home this season.
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