The Cardinals led the major leagues this year with a .330 batting average with runners in scoring position. That ranks 48 points ahead of the Detroit Tigers, the next-best team. It also broke the 2007 Tigers' .311 mark, the record since 1974 when runners in scoring position stats started being accurately tracked, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. That let the Cardinals score an NL-high 4.83 runs per game this season. The Pirates, by contrast, hit .229 with runners in scoring position, 27th in baseball. Leadoff man Matt Carpenter, the Cardinals second baseman, led the NL in hits and doubles this season.
Cardinals third baseman David Freese cost the team 14 runs more than the average player because of his defense this season. Pete Kozma and Clint Barmes are both above-average shortstops, and the lack of left-handed pitchers in the Cardinals' rotation means Jordy Mercer probably will not start instead of Barmes in the series. The Cardinals lost some defense at first base after Matt Adams replaced the injured Allen Craig, who is an above-average defender. The Pirates ranked eighth in the majors in defensive efficiency, which measures the percentage of balls in play turned into outs.
The Pirates have speed in left and center field in Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte. Very few borderline-catchable balls drop in those two-thirds of the field. Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay, meanwhile, is a below-average fielder. The Cardinals have two slow corner outfielders, Matt Holliday in left and Carlos Beltran and his bad knees in right. Beltran, according to ultimate zone rating, was the worst right fielder who played at least 900 innings this season. Marlon Byrd has saved 12 runs above average in right field this season, a good portion of which was spent playing with the New York Mets at spacious Citi Field.
This series will exhibit two of the best defensive catchers in the majors in Yadier Molina and Russell Martin. Molina ranked third in the majors in caught stealing percentage at 43.5 percent, while Martin's 36 base stealers thrown out led the majors. Martin also ranked ninth among players of all positions in defensive wins above replacement. Martin saved 16 runs above average this season to Molina's 12. They both handle their pitching staffs well and do an exceptional job of blocking balls in the dirt.
The Cardinals starters had a 3.42 ERA this season, ranking second in the majors and slightly ahead of the Pirates, who ranked fourth at 3.50. Adam Wainwright is a Cy Young candidate and would have a shot at the award if not for Clayton Kershaw. Lance Lynn replicated his solid 2012 season, and the Cardinals received tremendous efforts from youngsters Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly. A.J. Burnett struck out 9.8 batters per nine innings, and rookie Gerrit Cole finished the season on a five-start run where he compiled a 1.69 ERA and struck out 39 batters in 32 innings.
The Pirates bullpen's 2.89 ERA ranked second in the NL only to the Braves. Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli held opponents scoreless in the eighth and ninth innings for most of the season, though recent struggles have cast some doubt over the late innings. Cardinals closer Edward Mujica allowed nine runs on 18 hits in 71/3 innings in September after closing 37 games for them this year. Manager Mike Matheny said Mujica will be on the playoff roster, but would not specify his role. Trevor Rosenthal saved three games in late September.
Matheny and Clint Hurdle have managed playoff teams before, but Matheny did so more recently, ushering the Cardinals from the wild-card game to the NLCS in 2012. Hurdle managed well in the wild-card game Tuesday night against the Cincinnati Reds. He stuck with his regular lineup and removed starter Francisco Liriano after seven innings to play the matchups (Tony Watson) and his closer (Jason Grilli) in a non-save situation. There are no secrets between the two managers, who saw plenty of each other in the past two seasons.