Pedro Alvarez is congratulated by Justin Morneau after hitting a two-run home run Friday in St. Louis.
By Bob Smizik
There's no more intriguing topic these days, as the Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals are even at one game in their best-of-five NLDS series, than the spot in the batting order of Pedro Alvarez.
Alvarez tied for the National League lead in home runs. In his past 17 at bats, he has four home runs and seven RBIs. The man is clearly on a roll and there are some who believe, quite understandably, he should be moved from his current No. 6 spot in the lineup to No. 4.
That's not likely going to happen.
Manager Clint Hurdle isn't going to break up a winning combination, even if current No. 4 hitter Justin Morneau has been an absolute flop in that role. Morneau is now 90 at bats with the Pirates and without a home run. And with only three RBIs. And 1-for-14 in RISP situations during the regular season.
It's not just the lack of production that makes the case for moving Morneau, it's the fact that he provides little 'protection' for Andrew McCutchen. Protection can be overrated, and often is, but it's a fact that opposing pitchers will be less likely to give McCutchen something to hit with a non-impact batter like Morneau behind him.
The notion that Alvarez can do more damage batting sixth is preposterous. Six is a good spot in the lineup. It's not as good or as important as No. 4.
Alvarez moved into the No. 4 spot on an almost-permanent basis on July 8 and pretty much stayed there until Morneau took over in early September.
This is his batting line in 179 at bats as a No. 4 hitter in the regular season: .218/.284/.458/.737
This is his batting line in 243 at bats as a No. 6 hitter in the regular season: .230/.281/.436/.717
This is Morneau's batting line in 63 at bats as the No. 4 hitter in the regular season: .222/.333/.270/.603.
These numbers debunk the notion, presented by a commenter yesterday, that Alvarez never looked comfortable in the No. 4 spot. Think about it: This guy has batted No. 4 all his life. There's no reason he should not be comfortable with it in MLB.
The lineup will not change. But please don't try to tell me it is better with Morneau fourth.
There was an expectation that the fans at Busch Stadium would attempt to replicate what happened at PNC Park Tuesday night when Pirates fans chanted the name of Cincinnati pitcher Johnny Cueto in such a manner that it seemed to upset him.
The stadium rocked with the sound of "KWAY-toe, KWAY-toe, KWAY-toe" every time Cueto prepared to pitch. It's a form of fan hazing and expect to see more of it in the future.
But not likely at Busch Stadium. St. Louis has reputation for having the best baseball fans in the country. From my experience in that town, that designation is correct. They are tremendously supportive of their home team.
But they are not the loudest, not the most raucous and not the most interested in influencing the outcome of the game. They are old-school, 1950s-ish, heartland type of fan. And there's nothing wrong with that.
Looking ahead: As spectacularly dominant as Francisco Liriano, who starts Game 3 tomorrow, was at PNC Park this season -- 8-1 with a 1.47 ERA -- he was more so when facing St. Louis. In three starts against the Cardinals he was 3-0 with an 0.75 ERA and a .127 BAA.
St. Louis starter Joe Kelly was 3-1 with a 2.53 ERA in six games, three relief appearance, against the Pirates. The Pirates batted .250 against him. Russell Martin is 3-for-4 with a home run against Kelly.