NLDS: Pittsburgh vs. St. Louis
The two best records in all of baseball face off in only the NLDS? Well, this is how the game has unfolded up to this point. Regardless of record, these two divisional foes should produce a classic. St Louis, won the season series 10-9, which should give an indication of how evenly matched these clubs are.
Both teams feature strong staffs, solid bullpens, and balanced lineups. There just isn’t much that separates these two. Or is there?
The answer is health. The Cardinals lost ace Adam Wainwright in April to an achilles injury, but he’s returned to the bullpen to give his club another weapon. The Cardinals have great depth in their rotation with Michael Wacha, John Lackey, Lance Lynn, and Jaime Garcia, but Wainwright is the unquestioned leader of the staff, and has a solid postseason resume. His absence from the rotation could be telling. Additionally, losing breakout star Carlos Martinez to injury doesn’t help either. Most importantly, is catcher and team leader Yadier Molina, who is going to try to play with a thumb injury. Molina is the backbone and defacto captain. If he can’t play through the injury, it’s a different Cardinal team.
Pittsburgh on the other hand, is locked and loaded, ready to go. But before we write St. Louis off, consider this: they won 100 games without Wainwright for essentially the entire season, Matt Adams and Matt Holiday missed significant time, all while playing in the best division in baseball. The Cardinals have a plethora of postseason experience, and have overcome injuries all year long. Regardless of whose on the field they’ll be ready to challenge anyone.
After the smoke clears and the dust settles, Pittsburgh will have more soldiers left in this war. The Cardinals have overcome so much, but it’s tough to do one more time against a team of the Pirates quality. The Bucs will return to the NLCS for the first time since 1992.