ST. LOUIS CARDINALS (98-67)
at PITTSBURGH PIRATES (97-79)
National League Division Series, Game 4 - Pittsburgh leads series 2-1
First pitch: Monday, 3:05 p.m. ET
Line: St. Louis -110, Pittsburgh +100, Total: 7.5
The Pirates' magical 2013 will continue on to the NLCS if they can finish off the Cardinals Monday afternoon at PNC Park in Game 4 of this NLDS series.
After getting blasted 9-1 in Game 1, Pittsburgh has turned the tables by outscoring St. Louis 12-4 during two straight victories. Charlie Morton (7-4, 3.26 ERA) takes the mound Monday tasked with eliminating St. Louis, making the first postseason start of his career. And the pressure will really be on his opponent, 22-year-old rookie Michael Wacha (4-1, 2.78 ERA), who got the nod over fellow rookie Shelby Miller to pitch this crucial game. Pittsburgh owns the series edge against St. Louis 12-10 in 2013, including a dominant 8-3 at home. The Pirates have been one of MLB’s best home teams this year, racking up a 52-31 record (.627) at PNC Park. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are a strong 43-39 (.524) on the road.
Wacha (1.10 WHIP) has brilliant stuff, whiffing 65 batters in 64.2 innings while walking just 19 guys. If he can avoid giving up too many free passes, he’s usually golden because opponents are hitting just .219 against him with only five home runs in 260 plate appearances. The right-hander also enters this game with some confidence, having finished his regular season with 8.2 scoreless innings against Washington in which he was one batter away from throwing a no-hitter that included nine strikeouts. That lone hit was an infield single. And as a further boost, his one career start against Pittsburgh came on Sept. 8 when he threw seven scoreless, two-hit innings in a 9-2 St. Louis win. He also shut the Pirates out for two innings in relief, fanning four, on Aug. 14. That may make it look like the St. Louis bullpen (3.45 ERA, 1.24 WHIP in 2013 regular season) may not have to do much, but they’ll be ready to go, especially on the road where they had a 3.08 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. So far in the NLDS, Cardinals relievers have a 2.89 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 9.1 innings, but have recorded just as many walks as strikeouts (three each).
Morton (1.28 WHIP) finished 2013 strongly, posting a 1.86 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in his final three starts. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff, with only 85 strikeouts in 116 innings, while he walked 36 in that span. One of his strengths is keeping the ball in the park, allowing only six home runs in 2013. The sinkerballer was notably better at PNC Park with a 2.85 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in nine home starts. He must get goose bumps facing Cardinals batters, though, with a horrible 2-9 record (team 3-11) against them in 14 career starts with a 6.52 ERA and 1.91 WHIP. The last of those starts was on Sept. 8 when Morton didn’t make it out of the second inning, giving up five earned runs in 1.2 innings of work. C Yadier Molina (8-for-19, four doubles, 6 RBI), OF Carlos Beltran (6-for-15, 4 RBI), OF Matt Holliday (8-for-25, 1 HR, 5 RBI) and others have regularly teed off against Morton. As good as the Pittsburgh bullpen is, posting a 2.89 ERA and 1.17 WHIP during the 2013 regular season, they may not be good enough to fix that sort of mess. However, Pirates relievers have been outstanding in the NLDS with an 0.75 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 12 innings of work.