Pirates v. Cardinals NLDS series preview

Pirates Depth Chart - (RH/LH/Switch)

Cardinals Depth Chart - (RH/LH/Switch)

In the Wild Card game we saw the Pirates exploit an extreme strength of theirs which just happened to turn the Reds best assets into liabilities. Liriano is death on lefties in 2013 and the Reds' best hitters work from the left side. Votto, Bruce and Choo went cold and the Pirates cruised to their first playoff victory since 1992.

The Cardinals are a different beast, however. St. Louis hitters have a tremendous approach at the plate, specifically in RISP situations. Redbird hitters famously hit .330/.402/.463 with runners in scoring position in 2013. The lineup is loaded with a mix of smart hitters who understand situational hitting and guys who have enough pop to keep pitchers honest. The homerun totals aren't gaudy but the gap power is legit. The Cardinals led all of baseball with 322 doubles.

Pittsburgh's lineup, by contrast, is a mesh of good power, good speed and Andrew McCutchen who possesses both of those skills. The Pirates were third in baseball in HR's (161) and fifth in stolen bases (91). Pittsburgh's offense centers around McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez but guys like Justin Morneau and Starling Marte are also strong contributors.

What to watch for

Offensively Matt Carpenter makes the Cardinals go. The most intriguing match up in my mind won't happen until game 3 when Liriano is sent out to the mound. We've covered how well Liriano does against lefties already but Matt Carpenter isn't your typical lefty. In 222 PA's Carpenter hit .294/.353/.467 against LHP which highlights just how good his approach is. However, against lefty sliders he only hit .257 with a .314 SLG. For contrast, this is what Liriano's slider has done to other lefties.

The Cardinals have a definite edge when it comes to hitting but it's ground that the Pirates make up for in pitching and defense. Defensively the Pirates have an big edge. Their outfield can cover a lot of ground and their smart use of defensive shifting can be a difference maker in the series. If we consider the starting rotation and bullpen to be even (which I do) then the defenders in the series will matter.

This is a tight series to call, home field advantage will matter to a degree. Defense will matter to a larger degree. Hitting and platoon splits will rule in the small sample size. Not having Allen Craig available is a huge hit for the Cardinals, one that significantly weakens how creative they can get late in games. The Pirates have a solid bench with Gaby Sanchez, Jose Tabata and Garret Jones coming off the pine.

I think this comes down to matchups and defense, and in that regard the Pirates have the edge. It wouldn't surprise me if the Cardinals won but I do think the Pirates eek out the series in five games.