For the first time in 20 years, the Pittsburgh Pirates will be playing their first playoff series against the division rival St. Louis Cardinals. This series is going to be filled with drama, tension, and sorrow or joy.
Going into this series, there are certainly no shortage of difference-makers for either team, from the Buc’ formidable bullpen to the Cardinals’ big bats. Looking deeper into this series however, there is one player for the Pirates that I feel is the biggest difference-maker: Starling Marte.
Marte is the catalyst at the top of the Pirates’ batting order. He can turn any single into a double or a normal double into a triple. Marte has blazing speed on the bases and can even hit for power. This power showed when Marte hit the would-be gaming-winning home run to get the Pirates into the playoffs.
There are many reasons why Marte is going to be the difference maker in the series. First off, Marte has one of the best arms in MLB. A runner that tries to turn a single into a double will more than likely be thrown out by the cannon of an arm that Marte has at his disposal.
Secondly, Marte has had a great season hitting the Cardinals. He had a batting average of .333 against St. Louis with an OPS of .943. These numbers are exactly what the Pirates need from a leadoff man in a big series like this one. Finally, Marte has had some clutch hits this season. In a game against the Chicago Cubs on the road earlier in the year, Marte came up to bat in the ninth inning with two outs and two strikes against him.
He then hit a home run that tied that game. Talk about coming through in pressure situations.
Yes, the focus during this series will be on players like Andrew McCutchen and Yadier Molina. And yes, many people will analyze the pitching matchups over and over again. However, I am going to be looking at the top — that is, the top of the Pirates’ lineup for Marte. The man can hit, he can field and he can run.
Look for Marte to be the leadoff spark the Pirates need to overcome the Cardinals in this series.