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Contact could be solution for Pirates vs. Wainwright

Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez swings and misses against the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright during Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

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Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, 11:00 p.m.

ST. LOUIS — A key to whether the Pirates' season continues or expires following Game 5 of the NLDS on Wednesday could be determined by something other than a swing, throw or catch:

It could be dependent upon pitch recognition.

Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen is a rare player who has had success against Cardinals ace and Game 5 starter Adam Wainwright. McCutchen is a .419 career hitter (13-for-31) vs. the right-hander. He diagnosed the Pirates' issues against Wainwright in their Game 1 loss.

“I think the difference in (Game 1) was we had a lot of swings and misses out of the zone on the curveball,” McCutchen said. “If we just let those go, it could have been a different ballgame. That was a difference maker for his outing.”

Of course, that's easier said than done for the Pirates.

Wainwright is a tough matchup for any team, but especially for the Pirates, are the third worst curveball-hitting team in the majors, according to Baseball Info Solutions.

The scouting service grades Wainwright's curveball as the second best curveball in the National League.

Wainwright has excellent command of his sharp-breaking curve and often gets hitters to chase it out of the strike zone. Only A.J. Burnett struck out more batters (134) than Wainwright (115) with curveballs in the regular season.

Wainwright threw 29 curveballs in the Cardinals' Game 1 victory. The Pirates swung and missed at the pitch nine times, a poor contact rate. Five times the pitch recorded a strikeout, three times a groundout. No Pirate recorded a hit off the curve.

The Pirates have five players — Starling Marte, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, Marlon Byrd and Russell Martin — who swing and miss at least 35 percent of breaking balls. Pedro Alvarez has a swinging strike rate of 49 percent against breaking pitches this season, according to Brooks Baseball.

Byrd tried to improve against breaking pitches by playing in the off-speed heavy Mexican League this offseason, but he faced few breaking balls there like Wainwright's.

“It's not a pitch to hit. It's a pitch he wants to get swings on,” Byrd said. “He's unbelievable at locating it, at throwing it short behind the plate. … You don't see spin. That's what makes him so good. The breaking ball is so tight.”

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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