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Pittsburgh Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals postseason primer

Pittsburgh Pirates' A.J. Burnett throws during practice at

Pittsburgh Pirates' A.J. Burnett throws during practice at spring training in Bradenton, Fla. (Feb. 21, 2012) (Credit: AP)

The Cardinals and Pirates begin their portion of the National League Division Series on Thursday at 5 p.m. Here’s everything you need to know going into the game:

SEASON SERIES

The Pirates and Cardinals play in the NL Central, which means we have a decent sample size of play – 19 games. Pittsburgh took the season series, just barely, 10-9. The Cardinals, however, actually outscored the Pirates, 87-85. During the teams’ most recent three-game set, the Cards swept the Pirates, outscoring Pittsburgh 26-10.

WHO’S HOT

Andrew McCutchen, Pirates CF – The NL MVP Candidate has had a habit of fading late in the year during past seasons. Not this year. McCutchen hit .318 with a .453 on-base percentage and four home runs in September.

Neil Walker, Pirates 2B – Walker hit just .207 during the final month of the season – but he leads the team with seven September home runs.

Marlon Byrd, Pirates RF – The August acquisition batted .319 with a .364 OBP and two home runs in September. He hit another long ball during the Wild Card game against Cincinnati on Tuesday.

Matt Holliday, Cardinals LF – Holliday hit .378 with a .485 OBP and four home runs in 103 plate appearances during September.

Matt Carpenter, Cardinals 2B – An NL MVP candidate, the second baseman batted .349 with a .441 OBP in September.

Matt Adams, Cardinals 1B – First baseman Allen Craig went down with an injury. So Adams stepped in and was a revelation. He hit .315 with a .344 OBP and team-leading eight home runs during the final month of the regular season.

WHO’S NOT

Pedro Alvarez, Pirates 3B – He’s got tremendous power, as evidenced by four home runs in September. But Alvarez is also hitting .228 with a .301 OBP.

Carlos Beltran, Cardinals RF – When he gets going, watch out. But he’s not going anywhere right now – certainly not to first base. Beltran hit just .217 with a .320 OBP during September.

GAME 1 PITCHING COMPARISON

A.J. Burnett, Pirates RHP: Burnett has excelled during his two seasons in Pittsburgh, especially in 2013. The 36-year-old had a 3.30 ERA in 30 starts. He allowed just 165 hits in 191 innings and struck out 209. His 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings rate led all qualified starters in the NL.

Adam Wainwright, Cardinals RHP: Wainwright is a perennial Cy Young contender. He led the NL in games started (34), complete games (5), shutouts (2), innings pitched (241.2) and – for those who think it matters – wins (19). He also posted a 2.94 ERA and 1.06 WHIP.

NEW YORK CONNECTION

Jose Tabata used to be a Yankees outfield prospect. He was part of the trade that netted the Yankees Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady. Tabata is hitting .315 with a .351 OBP.

Burnett signed with the Yankees before the 2009 season, helping the team to a World Series title. But he struggled in 2010 and 2011 before being traded to Pittsburgh.

Byrd and John Buck were traded from the Mets to the Pirates in August for an infield prospect and reliever Vic Black.

Beltran has helped power the Cards’ outfield for the past two seasons. Prior to that he spent six and a half seasons with the Mets.

THE X-FACTOR

PNC Park was raucous and rocking while hosting its first playoff game. The crowd noise appeared to rattle Reds starter Johnny Cueto. Will the Pirates’ stadium create a serious home field advantage?

Tags: A.J. Burnett , Andrew McCutchen , Marlon Byrd , Carlos Beltran , John Buck , Playoffs , Postseason , Pittsburgh Pirates , St. Louis Cardinals

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