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Cardinals vs. Pirates NLDS 2013: 5 Players Who Must Deliver

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Cardinals vs. Pirates NLDS 2013: 5 Players Who Must Deliver

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The NLDS Matchup between the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates may be the most intriguing matchup of the first round. You have a team in the Cardinals that is a perennial contender and is just two years removed from winning the World Series. For the Pirates, it has been two decades since they made it to the playoffs and 34 years since they have won a World Series.

These two teams play in the same division and have met 19 times this season. The Pirates won 10 of the matchups, including going 7-2 at home. The Cardinals won nine of the matchups and went 7-3 at home. Since the Cardinals won the division and the Pirates are the Wild Card team, St. Louis will have home-field advantage in the series.

Both teams have a lot of home-grown talent. For the Pirates, they have been built around their top prospects. Guys like Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Gerrit Cole, Neil Walker and Starling Marte make up the core of this team. They have been surrounded by veterans like Russell Martin, A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Jason Grilli and Justin Morneau.

For the Cardinals, they are anchored at catcher by Yadier Molina and have developed players like Shelby Miller, David Freese, Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig (who won't play) and Trevor Rosenthal. The additions of Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Edward Mujica and Randy Choate have helped make up for the losses of Albert Pujols to free agency and Chris Carpenter to injury.

As in most baseball series, this one will come down to which handful of players can step up and carry their team to victory. These five guys must deliver for their team to have a chance at the NLCS.

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5. Adam Wainwright

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The wins leader in the National League will have to be the anchor to a young playoff rotation. He will be counted on to win both of his starts in case Shelby Miller isn't ready for the moment. Without Chris Carpenter, he is the unquestioned ace and has to pitch like one.

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4. Jason Grilli

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The 27th out in baseball is the most difficult one to get. Neftali Feliz of the Texas Rangers couldn't get it in the 2011 World Series against the Cardinals. If the Pittsburgh Pirates have a lead going into the ninth, Jason Grilli will have to finish the job in dominating fashion.

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3. Russell Martin

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Russell Martin will have to lead a rotation that has very limited playoff experience against the toughest lineup in the NL. Not only will he have to take care of business behind the plate, but he will have to deliver at the plate. Against the Cardinals this year, Martin went 15-for-50, which is a .300 batting average, and had six HRs and 11 RBIs. This means 40 percent of his home runs came against the Cardinals in just 14 games.

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2. Yadier Molina

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Yadier Molina struggled against Pittsburgh at the plate this season. He hit only .173 in 52 at-bats and had an OBP of only .189. His biggest contribution will be behind the plate and trying to shut down the Pirates' running game. Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte combined to steal 68 bases this year. If Molina can shut them down, the Pirates may have trouble generating offense.

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1. Andrew McCutchen

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Andrew McCutchen will probably win the National League MVP this year. It's always interesting to see how a superstar reacts to their first trip to the postseason. For the Pirates to win, he will have to be more like Carlos Beltran, who hit .435 with eight home runs, 14 RBIs and went 6-for-6 in steals in his first postseason than Bryce Harper, who went 3-for-23 last year and struck out eight times.