The first deciding game in the divisional round of the 2013 MLB playoffs is set to get underway on Wednesday night. The St. Louis Cardinals will host the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game Five of the NLDS.
The Cardinals are more than familiar with being in this position. Four of the Cardinals’ five postseason series in 2011 and 2012 went the distance, and St. Louis participated in the first one-game wild card playoff. The National League Central champs have excelled in “must-win” situations, going 7-1 in their last eight attempts to avoid elimination.
The Pirates did win the 2013 wild card playoff game against the Cincinnati Reds, but that’s their only recent experience that comes close to Wednesday’s contest. Before this season, it had been 21 years since Pittsburgh finished above .500, and only once during that time did they come within less than 13 games of first place. Even in the 2013 regular season, the Pirates didn’t face much pressure in September, having clinched a playoff spot with a week left.
Pittsburgh’s lack of experience, though, hasn’t hurt them. They are one game away from beating the team that was tied for the best record in the Majors. The Pirates bounced back from a loss in the opener to take a 2-1 lead, but the Cardinals were able to steal Game Four on the road.
"You live for those situations," Andrew McCutchen said. "This is the game that we play. They didn't say it was going to be easy getting here to where we are. We've done a good job of getting in this position. We live for all those moments. Anything can happen in this game."
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The 26-year-old outfielder spent the first four years of his career playing for losing teams. Now, in what could end up being an MVP season, McCutchen is taking advantage of his opportunity. The outfielder leads the club in the playoffs with a .412 batting average and there’s a good chance he’ll continue his hot streak in Game Five. St. Louis will send Adam Wainwright to the mound, against whom McCutchen has a history of success, going 12-28 with five extra-base hits. Wainwright continued his Cy Young-caliber regular season into the playoffs, allowing just three base runners in a Game One victory. The 32-year-old has a 2.27 career-ERA in the postseason, having success as both a starter and reliever.
"Going out there and getting a guy out one time like it's going to be the last time you ever face him, that's the mentality I took into starting," Wainwright said. "I have to give it everything I've got every pitch until they take the ball from me."
While the Cardinals will send a proven veteran to the mound, the Pirates will rest their hopes on a rookie. Gerrit Cole didn’t make his MLB debut until mid-June, but he’s been a model of consistency. In 20 starts, including his Game Two victory, Cole has given up more than three runs just once.
"It's a situation you always dream about being in," Cole said on Tuesday. "I'm excited. It was a great scene there last week, and I'm sure it will be even more intense (Wednesday). It'll be great."
Cole’s inexperience could turn out to be an asset, considering none of the St. Louis batters have ever faced him. Game Five will mark the first time that Cole ever pitches against Carlos Beltran, who may be the greatest postseason hitter of all time. He holds the mark for career slugging percentage and on-base percentage in the playoffs. In 2013, he’s added two more home runs and six RBI.
Start Time: 8:07 p.m. ET
Betting Odds: St. Louis -158, Pittsburgh+148
TV Channel: TBS
Live Stream: Postseason.TV
Prediction: Pittsburgh 3, St. Louis 2