The balance in a best-of-five series is a pretty precarious thing. Headed into this series with the pitching matchups on the table, you could lay the advantages out like this: the Cards had a decent-sized Game 1 advantage with Wainwright against Burnett in Busch, the Pirates had a Game 2 advantage with Cole against Lynn since they've hit Lynn so well this year, the Pirates have a narrow Game 3 advantage at home with Liriano on the mound against Kelly, even though they haven't hit Kelly well this year, the Cards probably have a Game 4 advantage because they're not fooled by Charlie Morton and because and Michael Wacha baffled the Pirates in September, and the Cards will have some sort of Game 5 advantage no matter who the Pirates start because of home field and Wainwright. In short, it's been apparent since before the series started that in order to win the series, the Pirates were probably going to have win Games 2 and 3, then find a way to sneak a win out in one of the other three.
So far, the series has proceeded pretty predictably, even if maybe the margins of victory have been wider than anticipated. That means two different things: one is that the Pirates are in a pretty good place after splitting the two games at Busch, and the other is that they are going to be in a pretty bad place if they can't find a way to win this afternoon. I'm not trying to be fatalistic or anything here; I'm just laying it things out the way that they are.
The good news for the Pirates is that Francisco Liriano is pitching. He's been flat-out dominant against the Cards this year. In his three starts, the Cardinals have an OPS against of .343 with Liriano on the mound. He's pitched 24 innings in those starts with a 0.75 ERA, 20 strikeouts, five walks, and only 10 hits.That's about as dominant as a pitcher can get.
His mound opponent today, Joe Kelly, has almost as good against the Pirates. In three appearances (two starts), Kelly has a 0.64 ERA against the Pirates, striking out 10, walking six, and only allowing one run on eight hits in 14 innings. Obvously the thing that stands out there is the walks; Kelly throws hard, but hasn't been a huge strikeout guy this year and has garnered much of his success in a Jeff Locke sort of fashion — groundballs that generally go at people and not between them. What the Pirates need to do is make Kelly throw some pitches — the Cardinals used a ton of relievers in short bursts on Friday and while I would assume most of them would be available today, there may be an opportunity with a long-man like Shelby Miller (who's worked as a starter all year) being asked to go in long relief on short rest. Take what Kelly is giving you, is the point; cash in on those walks, make him throw pitches, try to chase him early. The Pirates may not need a ton of runs with Liriano on the mound, but they do need some runs, and they've been hard for the Pirates to come by against Kelly this year.
The first pitch today is at 4:37, in the same PNC Park in which the Pirates won four straight games in July/August and six of eight games total in the second half against the Cardinals.