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. Continue reading Pirates v. Cardinals NLDS series preview

Players to Watch, NL Central

On Monday, I widened my scope on baseball and listed some players to watch for the NL West. Today, I’m gonna run down the not-too-highly-regarded National League Central Division. Despite producing a World Series winner recently–the 2006 Cardinals–fans, especially those of the AL East tend to think of the NL Central as one of the weakest divisions in the game. Regardless, there’s still some good talent there. Let’s start, as we did with the NL West, with the 2009 division winner, the Cardinals. The guy we need to watch here is rather obvious: Colby Rasmus. As a rookie in ’09, Continue reading Players to Watch, NL Central

Pirates claim Claggett

From MLBTR, we learn that the Pirates have claimed Anthony Claggett off waivers from the Yankees. Claggett was designated for assignment on the 14th in order to free up a roster spot on the 40-man for speedster Freddy Guzman. The Pirates already have Ross Ohlendorf, Daniel McCutchen, and Jeff Karstens pitching for them, so why not bring in another Yankee arm (or two, or three)?

Snell traded to Seattle

MLBTR (via Dejan Kovacevic) is reporting that Ian Snell, along with Jack Wilson, has been traded to the Mariners for Ronny Cedeno, Jeff Clement (who never got enough playing time, in my opinion), Brett Lorin, Aaron Pribanic, and Nathan Adcock. I guess this means Ian Snell won’t be joining the Yankees and that they’ll have to look for pitching depth elsewhere (not that he was at the top of the list, of course). The trade is strange for Seattle, though. I thought that they were sellers? Hmmm…. UPDATE – It looks like Cliff Lee is headed to the Phillies.

Yanks scouting Snell

From Jen Langosch (MLB Pro Blog): There may not be any biggest discussion/dilemma in the Pirates’ front office right now than about what to do with Ian Snell. One month ago, the right-hander asked for a demotion to Triple-A, certainly not something you hear a player asking about every day. He also has expressed little interest in coming back to Pittsburgh. Since going to Triple-A Indianapolis, Snell has been unbelievable. He has allowed just two earned runs in 32 1/3 innings (five starts). He has 43 strikeouts and 12 walks. So it’s no surprise that a number of clubs have Continue reading Yanks scouting Snell