When the 2013 NLDS begins, it will be pitting two teams in battle that know one another very well. The St. Louis Cardinals might look to have the distinct edge on paper and with their postseason experience, but when it comes down to it, the Pittsburgh Pirates are the better team and they will be the ones moving on.
Yes, I am sure the Cardinals would love to repeat as champions but at the same time, this is a Pittsburgh team that hasn’t even made the playoffs since 1992. There is no doubt how much these players want this. On the other hand, when you already have recent championship success as the Cardinals do, there is the danger of complacency setting in.
There is nothing more dangerous than a team with nothing to lose. And considering that this is their first winning season since 1992, Pittsburgh truly does not have anything to lose.
A colleague of mine wrote a piece about how the Cardinals have the benefit of being able to send Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, Laynce Lynn and Jake Westbrook to the mound. He said the Cardinals have the distinct advantage in the starting pitching category.
I’m actually going to argue the opposite and say if St. Louis does have a pitching advantage, it isn’t by much.
The Pirates will be sending starters to the mound that finished the 2013 season with the best BAA (.243) in all of baseball. The Cardinals meanwhile, ranked 10th with a mark of .250. St. Louis holds the advantage in ERA (3.42) but again, it is only 0.08 points better than Pittsburgh’s 3.50.
In fact, if you take wins away from the equation and assume a four-man rotation, the starters would match up like this:
Game 1: Burnett (3.30 ERA) vs. Wainwright (2.94 ERA)
Game 2: Charlie Morton (3.26 ERA) vs. Miller (3.06 ERA)
Game 3: Gerrit Cole (3.22 ERA) vs. Lynn (3.97 ERA)
Game 4: Francisco Liriano (3.02 ERA) vs. Westbrook (4.63 ERA)
That gives the Pirates the advantage in two and the Cardinals the advantage in two if you are looking strictly at an ERA standpoint. And then depending on how Pittsburgh works the rotation, they could have Liriano pitch Game 5 instead of 4, which puts his 3.02 ERA against Wainwright’s slightly better 2.94.
Clearly there is no distinct advantage for the Cardinals or the Pirates in the starting pitching category. When it comes to relief pitchers however, the Pirates do have a distinct advantage.
The ERA for Pittsburgh’s relief corps is 2.89, their 55 saves are tops in the NL and their BAA is third in the NL (.229). St. Louis on the other hand, has an ERA of 3.45 for their relievers, just 44 saves and a BAA of (.247). Compared to starting pitching, these are some pretty significant drop-offs, especially in ERA.
And finally, lets talk home-field advantage. It is very infrequent that a team is better on the road than at home, so obviously who ever has home field will have that advantage. It is specifically called “home-field advantage” for that reason. As it works out, the Cardinals do have better home stats than the Pirates’ road numbers, but there is nothing surprising there.
But when it comes to the NLDS, it hasn’t exactly been as much of a boon. Since 2000, the team with home-field advantage is just 12-14 in the first round of the playoffs. Those numbers actually support a home-field disadvantage.
Ultimately, this series is going to be different from any we’ve ever seen because for the first time in the NLDS, two teams from the same division will play each other. Both of these teams know each other’s strengths, weaknesses and everything in between.
In the end, I do think the Pirates are the better, more determined and more desperate team. They are the true blue underdogs and if you want to know if an underdog can win the World Series, just ask the Cardinals themselves.
Marilee Gallagher is a baseball writer for RantSports.com. You can follow her on Twitter @MGallagher17 like her page on Facebook, or join her network on Google.