Lots of Pirates had good playoffs. 3B Pedro Alvarez is at the top of that list: .300, three home runs and at least one RBI in every game. Alvarez excelled.
LF Starling Marte and 2B Neil Walker, not so much.
There's really zero blame to go around, not after such a great season and not after extending St. Louis to five games. But Marte and Walker went a combined 1-for-38 atop the order against the Cardinals. That didn’t help.
Walker had some decent at-bats. He battled better than most against Adam Wainwright last night. Wainwright threw just 107 pitches in nine innings; Walker forced him to throw 22. Walker got robbed of a hit by St. Louis SS Pete Kozma.
But Walker struck out five times during the NLDS, and 0-for-19 is 0-for-19.
One-for-19 is only marginally better. But Marte is miscast as a leadoff hitter.
Marte stole 41 bases and scored 83 runs. He is fleet of foot. He had 48 extra-base hits, so he's quite often in scoring position. Marte absorbed 24 HBPs.
But Marte walked just 25 times and struck out 138 times. His OBP of .343 ranked 25th in the National League. Not terrible, but you want better.
Marte hacks away like Manny Sanguillen used to. His plate discipline is minimal. He often swings at pitches outside the strike zone. Marte forced Wainwright to throw just 12 pitches. He had two three-pitch at-bats and a two-pitch AB. (To be fair, Wainwright threw Marte 11 strikes.)
Marte has got to move down the lineup. Marlon Byrd will likely leave via free agency. Perhaps Jose Tabata takes RF and the leadoff spot.
Walker, meantime, should ditch switch-hitting and bat exclusively left-handed. He was 18-for-80 (.225) with one extra-base hit (a double) from the right side of the plate this season. Walker hasn't hit a home run right-handed since 2011.
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As Game 5 of the NLDS approaches, my advice is: ENJOY THE MOMENT.
Full disclosure: I don't care.
The Pirates killed my passion over the past two decades, and I can't recapture it. At least I'm honest. Half of PNC Park are bandwagon jumpers. Most of the media is pretending to care. It would be better for my show if they lost. End-game discussion is awesome, and the Penguins are my bread and butter.
But, as a supporter, I've been in this situation with the Penguins and Liverpool FC. Stanley Cup finals. European Cup finals. Lots of big games.
Consider last spring, when the Penguins lost to Boston in the Eastern Conference final. Like so many, I let disappointment overwhelm my appreciation.
That series was winnable, and the Penguins got slaughtered. That sucked.
But only two teams did better. Sidney Crosby is healthy, and has reclaimed his post as hockey's top player. The Penguins are always exciting, and should contend for the next decade. Nothing beats game night at Consol Energy Center.
As a talk host, I'm going to go ballistic if they don’t win another Stanley Cup soon. Their pedigree justifies nothing less.
But I was there pre-Mario. I was there post-Mario, and pre-Sid. I've been there since the beginning. I've been there ALL THE TIME.
You want that Stanley Cup, obviously. But the Penguins, on a daily basis, deliver.
If you're a true Pirates fan, your support never wavered these past two decades. Maybe that made you loyal. Maybe that made you stupid.
But now, it's your time. ENJOY THE MOMENT.
The Pirates have rebuilt Pittsburgh as a baseball town overnight and become a legit contender. It's an amazing story. The future offers no guarantees, not even .500. Small-market teams almost always find themselves in a liquid situation. I still don't trust Bob Nutting.
But you got tonight.
Tonight's a coin flip. Moneyball doesn't matter. Bill James doesn't matter. What's already happened doesn't matter. Games like this are random.
Who would have predicted Bill Mazeroski? Bobby Thomson? Bucky Dent? Francisco Cabrera and Sid Bream? In games like this, heroes come out of nowhere.
It would not shock me to see Neil Walker come through.
Walker is 0-for-16 in the NLDS, but he's having decent at-bats and does well against St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright: 6-for-19 on his career with one home run, six RBIs and three walks. Walker is a smart, collected hitter.
The one thing I don't want to see is a Pirates loss that can be pinned on one person. No one on the Pirates deserves that. Not after this season.
That's all we got? One ***damned hit?
The similarities between "Major League" and the Pirates' current situation are spooky. The manager had to pick between the veteran and the rookie phenom to start the deciding game. In "Major League," Indians skipper Lou Brown went with the vet, Eddie Harris. Clint Hurdle did the opposite and chose the rook, Gerrit Cole.
Then there's the concept of sliding 10 feet too soon.
Josh Harrison in Game 4:
Willie Mays Hayes in "Major League":
Pirates 3B Pedro Alvarez - who hit .180 against left-handed pitching this season - smacked a single off St. Louis lefty Kevin Siegrist to drive home the winning run in Game 3 of the NLDS at PNC Park yesterday.
It was not a career-defining moment for Alvarez, as some suggest.
It was luck. It was one of 18 hits that come along every 100 at-bats against lefties, and it came along at a very opportune time.
Luck had a lot to do with yesterday's Pirates win. It looks like a charmed season.
The Pirates won despite a fielding miscue by Starling Marte, a baserunning gaffe by Andrew McCutchen, a bad call/missed tag by Alvarez at third base on a Cardinals’ double steal and Mark Melancon blowing a lead.
That's a lot of mistakes to overcome. A lot of luck.
A lot of grit, too. A lot of heart. The Pirates never say die.
Alvarez is the Pirates' postseason MVP so far: 4-13, five RBI (at least one in each game), three runs, two home runs and a double. His OPS is 1.221. Alvarez is streaky. Continued good form could go a long way toward the Pirates going a long way.
If Alvarez is MVP, Gerrit Cole is a close second. His performance in Game 2 (6 innings, 2 hits, one run) got the Pirates back in the series.
Here's predicting a Game 5. God wouldn't deny us the Cole-A.J. Burnett debate. It's the exact decision Lou Brown faced at the end of "Major League." Harris or Wild Thing? Brown picked the vet, like most old-school managers do.
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