Deeper look into Bucs-Cards NLDS
By David Golebiewski
Published: Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, 10:09 p.m.
After splitting the first two games of the National League Division Series in St. Louis, the Pirates can finish off the Cardinals in front of a raucous PNC Park crowd.
Games 1 and 2 proved that traditional baseball axioms mean little come playoff time, with a 36-year-old World Series winner getting shelled and a 23-year-old rookie unfazed by the heightened pressure of every pitch. At least one thing remains constant: Pedro Alvarez has serious power.
Burnett off his game
Few played a more integral role in the Pirates' first October run since 1992 than A.J. Burnett, but his Game 1 outing was arguably the worst playoff start in club history.
Burnett was hammered for seven runs in two-plus innings, surrendering six hits and four walks before getting the hook. The strikeout king — he had the second-highest single-season K rate (9.9 per nine innings) ever among Pirates starters — didn't whiff a batter.
Burnett fell behind batters from the get-go, throwing a first-pitch strike to just eight of the 16 Cardinals he faced. During the regular season, he threw a first-pitch strike 62.4 percent of the time. He also struggled to locate his sinker and curveball.
Pitch Game 1 strike% Reg. season
Four-seam fastball 64.3 66.0
Sinker 54.5 70.3
Curveball 38.1 65.4
Burnett's Game 1 drubbing ranks lowest all-time among Pirates postseason starters in Game Score, a Bill James stat that gauges a pitcher's effectiveness on a scale of 0 to 100 based on innings pitched, strikeouts, hits, walks and runs allowed. Burnett's Game Score was 12; the major league average is 50.
Not very effective
Pitcher, year: A.J. Burnett, 2013 Round: NLDS Game 1 Opponent: Cardinals Game score: 12
Pitcher, year: John Candelaria , 1979 Round: World Series Game 3 Opponent: Orioles Game score: 21
Pitcher, year: Bob Moose, 1972 Round: NLCS Game 2 Opponent: Reds Game score: 24
Pitcher, year: Steve Blass, 1971 Round: NLCS Game 4 Opponent: Giants Game score: 24
Pitcher, year: Bruce Kison, 1979 Round: World Series Game 1 Opponent: Orioles Game score: 25
Talent trumps experience
Who needs a postseason track record when you've got 100 mph heat and sinister breaking stuff? Gerrit Cole, just the fourth rookie in franchise history to start a playoff game, suffocated the Cardinals' lineup over six innings. He even matched St. Louis at the plate, driving in a run with a second-inning single.
Once heavily reliant on his fastball, Cole baffled Cardinals hitters by throwing his heater just 54.7 percent of the time and mixing in sliders, curveballs and changeups. While Burnett couldn't get a feel for his curve, Cole threw 69.2 percent of his breaking and off-speed pitches for strikes.
Cole retained his upper-90s gas deep into the game, averaging his best fastball velocity in his final frame while hitting triple digits on three occasions.
Inning Avg. fastball velocity (mph)
Source: MLB Gameday
Pedro Alvarez has accelerated his home run pace in the playoffs, going 3 for 7 with two homers in the NLDS.
Alvarez's line-drive shots got out of the park in a hurry. His home run off Adam Wainwright in Game 1 traveled off his bat at slightly more than 110 mph, the highest velocity of all postseason homers entering Saturday. Alvarez's Game 2 dinger off Lance Lynn is tied with playoff demigod Carlos Beltran for second-fastest. Marlon Byrd and Russell Martin also hit scorchers in the wild-card game.
Get outta here
Highest speed off the bat for 2013 playoff home runs:
Batter, round: Pedro Alvarez, NLDS Gm. 1•Pitcher: Adam Wainwright Speed: 110.3 mph
Batter, round: Carlos Beltran, NLDS Game 1•Pitcher: A.J. Burnett Speed: 109.9 mph
Batter, round: Alvarez, NLDS Gm. 2 Pitcher: Lance Lynn Speed: 109.9 mph
Batter, round: Marlon Byrd, Wild Card •Pitcher: Johnny Cueto Speed: 108.2 mph
Batter, round: Russell Martin, Wild Card Pitcher: Logan Ondrusek Speed: 105.7 mph
MLB Avg. 103.5 mph
Source: Hit Tracker Online
The road ahead
The Cardinals led the NL in runs, but Pirates starters will pose a challenge.
Cardinals hitters could again scuffle against Francisco Liriano in Game 3, considering their collective .672 On-Base-Plus Slugging Percentage (OPS) versus lefties is fifth-worst in the majors. St. Louis touched up Game 4 starter Charlie Morton in 2013, but they're a middle-of-the-pack offense against extreme groundball pitchers (.715 team OPS, 14th in the majors).
History is also on the Pirates' side: 62 percent of teams that split the first two games of the division round on the road before returning home have advanced to the Championship Series.
David Golebiewski is a freelance writer.
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