Time/Place: 5:00 p.m., Busch Stadium
Pitching Matchup: RHP A.J. Burnett (10-11, 3.30 ERA) vs. RHP Adam Wainwright (19-9, 2.94 ERA)
Burnett improved slightly in 2013 after a resurgent 2012, posting a better ERA, WHIP, FIP, strikeout rate, and strikeout-to-walk ratio. He even maintained a 56.5% ground ball rate, nearly identical to last season's 56.9%. In fact. Burnett's 3.30 ERA was his lowest since he posted the same figure back in 2002 as a 25 year old fireballer with the Florida Marlins. Oddly enough, Burnett had a higher strikeout rate this year at age 36.
Wainwright was a pair of blowout losses away from posting some truly elite numbers this season -- if you don't already consider a 2.94 ERA, 6.26 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and 1.07 WHIP elite, that is. If you Porcello out those back-to-back outings against the Reds in late August and September, Wainwright finishes the year with a 2.47 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. His first outing after those two blowouts? Seven shutout innings against these same Pirates at Busch Stadium.
Some thought rookie phenom Gerrit Cole would get the nod for the Pirates after not being used in Tuesday's Wild Card game, but I like Clint Hurdle's decision to use the veteran Burnett in Game 1. Burnett has held the Cardinals in check this year with a .598 OPS against, and he likely won't be rattled by the hostile crowd. On the other side, Wainwright has been a dominant force for the Cardinals in the postseason, save for one bad start against the Washington Nationals last year.
The Cardinals get to Burnett early and cruise to an easy Game 1 victory.
Time/Place: 8:30 p.m., Turner Field
Pitching Matchup: LHP Clayton Kershaw (16-9, 1.83 ERA) vs. RHP Kris Medlen (15-12, 3.11 ERA)
Looking at Kershaw's numbers, I found myself asking "how did this guy end up with nine losses?" Sure, a lack of run support can play a role, but Kershaw had 24 outings this year where he allowed two runs or fewer. He had five scoreless outings in the second half alone. His worst start of the season was in Colorado, where he allowed five runs in five innings.
Like in 2012, Medlen took off in late July. In his last 12 outings (11 starts) of the 2013 season, Medlen held opponents to a 2.08 ERA and 0.987 WHIP. He didn't quite have the same ridiculous strikeout-to-walk ratio that he had in '12, but 67 strikeouts to 14 walks in 78 innings is nothing to sneeze at. He was much better at home than on the road all season long, holding opposing batters to a 2.26 ERA and .672 OPS at Turner Field this year.
The Braves might have home field advantage, but home field doesn't mean much when you're facing arguably the best pitcher in baseball. Kershaw is the ultimate trump card in a short series, especially against a Braves team that had a .690 OPS against left-handed starting pitchers this season. The Dodgers haven't exactly been an offensive juggernaut this season -- they only scored 4.25 runs per game in the second half when they were bludgeoning teams -- but it may only take a run or two tonight. Medlen has his work cut out for him.
Kershaw delivers a 1-0 series lead.