One of the coolest aspects of a Game 5 is that pretty much the entire baseball-watching world has turned its eyes onto the Pirates and Cardinals. As such, there are a couple of links that I think are good reading to open this preview with.
First up is Getting Blanked's preview of the Andrew McCutchen/Adam Wainwright matchup. Drew is right in saying that in general, hitter vs. pitcher splits are worthless due to sample size constraints, but I the idea here is probably the key to this game. Adam Wainwright is a great pitcher and he's gotten good results against the Pirates in the past, but the Pirates have found some occasional success against him. They scored four runs off of him on July 31st of this year, coming back from deficits of 2-0, 3-1, and 4-2 all against Wainwright. They got to him a bit in his next start, too, scoring three times against him in seven innings, hitting two homers. The two times they've faced him since then have gone really badly for the Pirates, of course, but it's certainly not fair to say that Wainwright's a lock to dominate the Pirates tonight.
The flip side of that is Gerrit Cole. Jeff Moore wrote an advanced scouting report of Cole at Baseball Prospectus today, and the gist of it is basically that if he keeps pitching the way that he has since the start against Texas, your best chance against him is to hope that he leaves a fastball up in the zone and you're lucky enough to somehow catch up with it. Cole's just been ridiculously dominant in the last month; at this point he throws two fastballs, a changeup, and two breaking balls that are nicely ranged from about 83-100 mph and all difficult to distinguish from at least one other of his pitches. There is, of course, no guarantee that we'll see this Cole tonight. He's thrown a lot of innings and pitches for a 22-year old this year, and he's never pitched in a situation like this in his life. The Pirates seem confident in Cole's ability to pitch through the end of the year whenever that may be, though, and what we've seen from the kid so far indicates that he wouldn't back down from the fires of Mount Doom, so I kind of doubt that Busch Stadium will phase him, either. Still, it'd be unfair to characterize him as a sure thing tonight, even if he's the pitcher that I most want the Pirates to have on the mound in this exact situation.
It is tempting to think of winning this game as some kind of bonus on top of what this Pirate team has already accomplished and the demons that this Pirate team has already exorcised, but I'm going to repeat the mantra that I've had since the earliest part of the season when the Pirates started winning games: be greedy. The Pirates are one win from an NLCS, five wins from a World Series, and nine wins from a championship. They have already come further than 24 other teams. Why be satisfied with stopping? As I said earlier today, the future contains nothing in terms of guarantees. The Pirates are in Game 5 of the NLDS right now and they can win this game. Be greedy.
To be perfectly honest, I don't have a good feel for what to expect in this game. In last week's wild card game, I was awfully nervous because I felt like the Pirates were the better team and that they Pirates should win, which would've made a loss in such a contrived situation much harder to stomach. At this point, I could tell you how the Cardinals could win relatively easily or how the Pirates could win relatively easily, or how we could get into the late innings of the game with literally no concept of who was going to win. I feel like this game could shake out in any number of ways and I'm not really certain which one is more likely than the others at this point.
At this point, the only thing left to do is to sit back and realize that Gerrit Cole vs. Adam Wainwright in a decisive game is the sort of playoff game that you'd be scrambling to find time to watch under any and all circumstances, and that for the first time in forever, this sort of must-see playoff game involves the Pirates. Think about how cool that is, and then get ready to hold your breath for three straight hours. We've been waiting for playoff baseball for a generation in Pittsburgh, and tonight is what playoff baseball is all about.
The first pitch tonight is scheduled for the general vicinity of 8 PM. Gerrit Cole and Adam Wainwright will be on the mound. One team will advance to the NLCS. One team will not.