The turnaround time in this series is a little bit mind-boggling. I'm typing this up around 3 PM on Thursday afternoon. In about 25 hours, it's possible that either the Pirates or the Cardinals will be one win away from the NLCS. That's not quite the same urgency as the one-and-done elimination game on Tuesday, but it's awfully close.
The key for the Pirates at this point is to get a split in these first two games. That's obvious advice for the worse seed in a five-game series, but it certainly bears repeating. A split will set them up for Francisco Liriano at home in Game 3, plus another home game in front of that crazy PNC crowd (most likely started by Charlie Morton). Obviously nothing is a sure thing in baseball, particularly in these short series, but a split ensures the Pirates have a chance to prevent the series from ever coming back to St. Louis. That's really what the Bucs are playing for in the next day or so.
For all of the pre-series talk about how the Cardinals have more playoff experience than the Pirates, but I think that the pressure tonight is mostly on the Cardinals. Let me ask you a question: how would you feel being down 1-0 in a best of five series knowing that you had to face Gerrit Cole on Friday and Francisco Liriano in front of that delirious PNC crowd on Sunday? That sounds like a terrifying situation to be in to me, and it's where the Pirates will have the Cardinals if they can win Game 1 tonight.
I've already talked about AJ Burnett extensively today; he's been good and bad in the season's second half and he's been good and bad against the Cardinals over the same span. His last three starts were awfully good, though, and even though things like, "it seems like he lives for this kind of game" are ridiculous and unquantifiable and potentially completely wrong, it seems like he lives for this kind of game. The good news is that Clint Hurdle will likely have a slightly quicker hook with Burnett in the playoffs than he's had in the regular season, and that might help avert one an ugly start if it seems like one is rearing its head.
Adam Wainwright goes for the Cards. He's been hot and cold for much of this second half, too. He had two terrible starts against the Reds in late August/early September (15 runs total in eight innings), but the Cardinals have won all five of his starts since then. That includes a seven inning domination of the Pirates at Busch on September 2nd; he struck out eight, walked two, and only allowed two hits. His curveball will likely be trouble for the Pirates and I saw some speculation that weird late-afternoon shadows might increase those troubles. Let's be clear: I've been saying that AJ Burnett and Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano can win games by sheer force of will for the Pirates, but the same is true for the Cardinals and Wainwright. If he shows up with his best stuff, the Pirates are going to need a singular effort from Burnett and some luck on offense to beat him.
First pitch tonight is at 5:07.