— A look at the best-of-five National League division series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals:
Game 1, Thursday, at St. Louis (5:07 p.m.)
Game 2, Friday, at St. Louis (1:07 p.m.)
Game 3, Sunday, at Pittsburgh (TBA)
x-Game 4, Monday, Oct. 7, at Pittsburgh (TBA)
x-Game 5, Wednesday, Oct. 9, at St. Louis (TBA). (All games on TBS or MLB Network).
Season Series: Pirates 10-9.
Pirates: LF Starling Marte (.280, 12 HRs, 35 RBIs, 41 SBs), 2B Neil Walker (.251, 16, 53, 24 2Bs), CF Andrew McCutchen (.317, 21, 84, 27 SBs), RF Marlon Byrd (.291, 24, 88 overall; .318, 3, 17 in 30 games with the Pirates), 1B Justin Morneau (.259, 17, 77 overall; .260, 0, 3 in 25 games with the Pirates), 3B Pedro Alvarez (.233, 36, 100, 186 strikeouts), C Russell Martin (.226, 15, 55), SS Clint Barmes (.211, 5, 23).
Cardinals: 2B Matt Carpenter (.318, 11 HR, 78 RBIs, ML-leading 199 hits, 55 doubles, .392 OBP), CF Jon Jay (.276, 7, 67, 10 SB), RF Carlos Beltran (.296, 24, 84), LF Matt Holliday (.300. 22, 94, .389 OBP), C Yadier Molina (.319, 12, 80), 1B Matt Adams (.284, 17, 51 in 108 games), 3B David Freese (.262, 9, 60), SS Pete Kozma (.217, 1, 35) or Daniel Descalso (.238, 5, 43).
Pirates: RH A.J. Burnett (10-11, 3.30 ERA, 209 Ks in 191 IP), RH Gerrit Cole, (10-7, 3.22), LH Francisco Liriano (16-8, 3.02), RH Charlie Morton (7-4, 3.26).
Cardinals: RH Adam Wainwright (19-9, 2.94, T-1st in NL in wins, NL-leading 241 2-3 innings, 3rd with 223 Ks), RH Lance Lynn (15-10, 3.97), RH Joe Kelly (10-5, 2.69), RH Shelby Miller (15-9, 3.06, led ML in rookie wins).
Pirates: Pirates: RH Jason Grilli (0-2, 2.70, 33 saves/35 chances), RH Mark Melancon (3-2, 1.39, 16 saves/21 chances), LH Tony Watson (3-1, 2.39), LH Justin Wilson (6-1, 2.08), RH Vin Mazzaro (8-2, 2.81), RH Kyle Farnsworth (1-1, 1.04), Bryan Morris (5-7, 3.46), Jeanmar Gomez (3-0, 3.35).
Cardinals: RH Trevor Rosenthal (2-4, 2.74, 3/8 saves), RH Edward Mujica (2-1, 2.78, 37/41), LH Kevin Siegrist (3-1, .045, 39.2 IP, 17 hits), RH Seth Maness (5-2, 2.32, 16 GIDP in 62 IP), RH Michael Wacha (4-1, 2.78, 8 2-3-inning no-hit bid last start), RH John Axford (1-0, 1.74 in 13 games after Milwaukee trade), LH Randy Choate (2-1, 2.29 in 64 games), RH Carlos Martinez (2-1, 5.08 in 21 games), LH Sam Freeman (1-0, 2.19 in 13 games) or LH Tyler Lyons (2-4, 4.75, 8 starts) or RH Fernando Salas (0-3, 4.50).
This is the first time the Pirates and Cardinals have met in the postseason ... The Cardinals swept a pivotal three-game series at Busch Stadium from Sept. 6-8 in which they outscored the Pirates 26-10. .... St. Louis was 3-7 in Pittsburgh. The Cardinals were 6-0 on final homestand and were 54-27 overall at Busch Stadium, second best home record in majors. ... St. Louis faced long odds of making it to the postseason after losing longtime ace Chris Carpenter, closer Jason Motte and shortstop Rafael Furcal to season-ending injuries before the season even started. ... The Cardinals’ 97 wins is most for the franchise since 2005 team won 100. ... St. Louis’ rookies had major league-high 36 wins. ... Wainwright tied Washington’s Jordan Zimmermann for the NL lead with 19 wins and joined Dizzy Dean (1934-35) and Mort Cooper (1942-43) as the only St. Louis pitchers to lead the league twice. ... According to STATS, Adams is among three rookies to reach 17 homers and 50 RBIs in fewer than 300 at-bats, and he’s the first to do it in the NL since the Giants’ Tom Haller in 1962. ... Pittsburgh outhomered St. Louis 19-5 during the season series ... Marte hit .333 (17 of 51) with four doubles and three triples in 13 games against the Cardinals. He did not play in the late sweep by the Cardinals due to a bruised right hand ... Burnett is 1-2 with a 13.50 ERA in four career starts at Busch Stadium ... Cole went 4-2 with a 2.38 ERA in seven road starts this season. Opponents hit just .217 on the road against Cole as opposed to .274 against the 22-year-old at PNC Park ... The Pirates have just one player with a World Series ring (Burnett) while the Cardinals have over a dozen players who were part of their World Series championship team in 2011.
Cardinals: The pressure was always on during the regular season and the Cardinals pulled away at the finish from Pittsburgh and Cincinnati after never leading by more than four games nor trailing by more than four. ... To make a deep run, they’ll need a long list of youngsters to keep coming through. After setting a franchise record by batting .330 with runners in scoring position, the lineup core of Holliday, Molina and Carpenter is a big bat shy for at least the first round. Craig, who led the majors with a .454 average with RISP and was among the NL leaders with 97 RBIs, is in a walking boot with a left mid-foot sprain sustained in early September. Adams hit eight homers filling in at first base but can be vulnerable against lefties. ... Wainwright was 4-0 in last five starts and dominant in all of them, recovering from out-of-character consecutive drubbings by the Reds. He’s lined up to make two starts in first round if needed. He’s 2-0 with a 2.43 ERA and four saves for his career in the postseason. ... Kelly was a fill-in for second straight year but ended up being the Cardinals’ most consistent starter for about a six weeks. Miller and Wacha, both 22, are top-end talents, and the bullpen leaders are young, led by Rosenthal, the closer-of-the-moment. ... Despite losing his job as closer in mid-September, Mujica was kept on the roster.
Pirates: The Pirates won a postseason round for the first time since the 1979 World Series when they beat the Cincinnati Reds 6-2 in the NL wild-card game on Tuesday night. Martin hit two home runs in the victory, becoming just the second player in the franchise’s 126-year history to have a multihomer postseason game. Bob Robertson hit three home runs against San Francisco in Game 2 of the 1971 National League championship series ... Liriano scattered four hits over seven innings to improve to 9-1 at PNC Park this season ... The Pirates (94-68) are one of baseball’s biggest surprises, riding solid starting pitching and an MVP-performance from McCutchen to the franchise’s first playoff berth in 21 years. A season after finishing third behind San Francisco C Buster Posey in the MVP race, McCutchen is favored to become the first Pirates MVP since Barry Bonds in 1992. McCutchen was at his best down the stretch, hitting .339 after the All-Star break to keep the Pirates offense producing after the starting pitching fell off a bit in the second half ... Liriano may have been the biggest steal during free agency last winter. Foundering at age 29, Liriano has been revived in Pittsburgh. He signed a two-year deal in January and came at a discount after breaking his right (non-throwing) arm on Christmas Day. He made his debut in May and was arguably the best pitcher in the NL not named Clayton Kershaw or Matt Harvey from May to mid-August ... Pittsburgh splurged a bit at the waiver trade deadline in late August, bringing in Byrd, Morneau and catcher John Buck to give the offense some pop. Byrd has been Pittsburgh’s most consistent player over the last month, hitting .318 with three homers and 17 RBIs in 30 games with the Pirates. He hit a home run in the first postseason at-bat of his 12-year career on Tuesday against the Reds ... Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle is 245-241 in three seasons with the Pirates. Hurdle led the Colorado Rockies to the National League pennant in 2007 and finished third in manager of the year balloting. He is among the favorites for the award this season after keeping his team focused through the dog days of August and beyond after late-season collapses the previous two years. ... The city came alive as the Pirates rebounded. Pittsburgh drew 2.26 million fans to PNC Park this season, the second-highest total in franchise history ... Grilli was an All-Star in the first half before injuring his right forearm in July. He missed six weeks then was eased back into his usual role, taking over in the final 10 days of the season after Melancon faltered ... Marte’s 41 stolen bases from the leadoff spot were the highest by a Pirate since Tony Womack swiped 58 in 1998. The Pirates were 70-49 when Marte started.
– Big Hit: Carpenter was 1 for 10 during the final weekend, falling one short of 200 hits. It’s been a spectacular year for the St. Louis leadoff man, who led the majors in hits, runs, doubles and multihit games and broke Stan Musial’s franchise record for doubles by a left-handed hitter. Plus, he was a quick study at a new position after learning second base in spring training.
– Momentum Factor: The Cardinals won 17 of their final 22, clinching the Central with two games to spare, not much time to get complacent. Holdovers are driven by a sense of unfinished business last October. Matheny used his starting lineup almost to the finish, holding out Holliday on Sunday to preserve a .300 average and giving Molina a ceremonial start so he could depart to an ovation. Opponents averaged one run per game the final homestand.
– Byrd Is the Word: The well-traveled Byrd raced from New York to Pittsburgh when the Pirates acquired him in late August. Desperate to reach the postseason for the first time in his lengthy career, Byrd has arguably been Pittsburgh’s best player down the stretch and his solo home run off Johnny Cueto to kick-started the wild-card win. “When I came over here, I wanted to be a piece of the puzzle,” Byrd said. “I wanted to fit in. These guys let me in, welcomed me with open arms.”
– Cole Train: All due respect to Liriano’s comeback year, Cole was easily Pittsburgh’s top starter down the stretch. The 23-year-old right-hander – who can hit 99 mph on the radar gun – went 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA in September. The top pick in the 2011 draft has grown up in the middle of a pennant race. He tinkered with a breaking ball over the final month of the season and his strikeouts skyrocketed as a result. Cole’s strikeouts per nine innings rose from 4.1 when he made his debut in June to 11 in September.