(BaseballStL) - It's pretty fitting, isn't it? After a long, grueling 6-month battle with the Pirates to determine the NL Central champion it's indeed the Pirates whom the Cardinals will face in the NLDS. There are storylines galore. The familiarity is through the roof between these two teams. It's going to be a true playoff atmosphere at both Busch and PNC these next several days.
That said, here are a few of the keys for the Cards if they want to get past those pesky Buccos and make it into the NLCS against the winner of the Dodgers and Braves.
Take G1 and G2 at home
It sounds simple. It sounds, well, too obvious. But if the Cardinals settle for a split at home on Thursday and Friday they will then have to head to PNC Park for G3 facing the one pitcher who gave them more fits than anyone this season in Francisco Liriano.
The 29-year old Dominican was 16-8 this season with a 3.02 ERA overall in 161 innings for the Pirates. But against the Cardinals he might as well have been Cy Young. Liriano started three games against the Redbirds and was 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA. In 24 innings, he gave up just two runs on 10 hits, striking out 20 against just five walks. Cards hitters batted just .127 against him.
Think that's someone the Cardinals want to see in what would essentially be game one of a best of three series? Well if they don't win both games in St. Louis that's exactly what will happen. And if they find themselves in that situation and lose to Liriano again, all of a sudden they're down two games to one in the series and need to win two in a row to advance.
That's not exactly a recipe for success. Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn need to be on their game Thursday and Friday, respectively. The Cards could be in big trouble if they're not.
Get an early lead
Nothing is more discouraging for an underdog than playing from behind. When you're ahead, you think you can win. Why? Because you're winning. But it takes special teams to come back from deficits - i.e. the Cardinals the last few seasons - and even then it's not easy.
The entire baseball world thinks the Cardinals are going to win this series because of their past playoff success. If the Pirates fall behind it should give the Cards a significant advantage. That will put into the Pirates minds that the Cardinals are simply the better team and it's going to be an extremely uphill battle to take them down.
Putting the Pirates in an early hole - especially at PNC in G3 and G4 - will take a lot of the enthusiasm out of them.
Someone, anyone, needs to create a spark on offense
The Cardinals more than any team in baseball appear to go hot and cold like none other. When they're on, the hits don't stop and they are capable of scoring about 10 runs per game. But when they go ice cold? It's bad. Like...no one can seem to get a hit kind of bad.
If someone in the lineup can come through with a huge hit with runners in scoring position, what they did so well this season, which could be the only spark the team needs to put a crooked number on the board.
Just because the Cards were in the top three in baseball in runs scored this year (783), top three in on-base percentage (.332) and top four in batting average (.269) in no way means they're a consistent bunch. Remember this is a club that lost seven in a row from July 26th to July 31st by scoring just a grand total of ten runs. Yes, that's ten runs in seven games. But also remember this is a club that immediately won three of its next four by scoring 41 runs in those wins.
Consistent they are not. Capable of immense production at a moment's notice they absolutely are.