Can Pirates close out the Cardinals? The last win always is the hardest

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It's not over. Far from it. The hardest win is always the final win and that's particularly true in this best-of-five NLDS series between the Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Since being routed in Game 1, the Pirates clearly have outplayed St. Louis. But despite the fact that home-field advantage rests with them in Game 4 this afternoon (3:07 p.m., TBS), there are circumstances that don't merely suggest there will be a Game 5 but scream that the teams will be playing Wednesday at Busch Stadium.

The reason is quite simple: Charlie Morton. To use a word often associated with these circumstances, the Cardinals "own" Morton.

Morton is 7-4 with a 3.26 ERA this season. Against St. Louis, he is 0-2 with a 7.90 ERA. St. Louis has a team batting average of .397 against Morton in 2013. In Morton's three starts against St. Louis, the Pirates are 0-3 and have been outscored 26-5.

The ugly full picture is this: Morton has lost his past five starts against St. Louis. In 14 starts in his career, he is 2-9 against them with a 6.52 ERA. The Cardinals have batted .333 against Morton with a .865 OPS.

Starting at the top of the likely St. Louis lineup, it goes like this: Matt Carpenter 3-for-8, Carlos Beltran 6-for-15, Matt Holliday 8-for-25; Yadier Molina 8-for-19, John Jay 8-for-16, David Freese 5-for-17.

In his career, left-handed hitters are batting .328 with a .907 OPS against Morton in 109 games. The Cardinals likely will start five left-handed hitters: Carpenter, Beltran, Adams, Jay and Daniel Descalso, who is 0-for-10 lifetime against Morton.

This doesn't mean Morton can't pitch successfully against St. Louis. He has, and this season. On Aug. 13, he pitched six innings and allowed two runs in a game the Pirates lost, 4-3.

What these numbers do mean is that the chances of Morton pitching successfully are not good.

Unless the Pirates can score a lot of runs against rookie Michael Wacha, against whom they have an 0.74 batting average (one game) this season, the series could well go back to St. Louis.

And there, despite the likely presence of Gerrit Cole on the mound for the Pirates, St. Louis will have the advantage with home field and Adam Wainwright pitching. The Cardinals are 6-3 against the Pirates this season at Busch Stadium.

Ending this today is critical for the Pirates. Morton, unquestionably, will be on the shortest of leashes. Manager Clint Hurdle has shown a reluctance to remove his starters quickly. Surely, the urgency of this situation, combined with Morton's record against St. Louis, will force him to have his bullpen at early ready to minimize any potential danger.

Wacha, a right-hander, is 4-1 with a 2.78 ERA this season. In September, he was 2-1 with a 1.72 ERA. He pitched seven innings on Sept. 8 against the Pirates and allowed no runs and two hits.

A tough assignment all the way around for the Pirates. But it's October baseball and that's always the case.


First Published October 7, 2013 1:00 PM


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