Second look at Waino could be just what Bucs need
Ace, like many pitchers, typically not as sharp facing team twice in short timeframe
ST. LOUIS -- Approaching a winner-take-all game in baseball -- a sport more accustomed to tomorrows, 162 of them -- you take encouragement wherever you can find it.
Thus the Pirates are emboldened by the recent history of Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals' ace who will take the ball in Wednesday night's Game 5 of the National League Division Series (8 p.m. ET on TBS), and will try to throw it through their flailing swings.
Not their own history: Wainwright held the Bucs to seven runs in three 2013 starts that improved his lifetime record against them to 9-4.
Second looks, which Pittsburgh will be getting on Wednesday at St. Louis' Game 1 starter, however have not be as easy for Wainwright. In this era of 15-team leagues plus Interleague Play games, two series between teams in a concentrated timeframe are rare, and Wainwright has had to make consecutive starts against the same team only three times the last couple of years.
For Wainwright, who in Game 1 of this NLDS allowed the Bucs a run on three hits in seven innings, encores have not gone well. The perfect correlation came in last year's NLDS, in which Wainwright held the Nationals to a run in five innings in Game 1, before they jumped him for six runs in 2 1/3 innings in Game 5.
"The fact of the matter is, last year, I pitched a good Game 1, a terrible Game 5, a good Game 4 of the NLCS. ... That's just the truth of the matter," Wainwright said. "My stuff was hit or miss all year long."
This is not to say the Pirates are in for the same rebuttal treat. But they know it can happen, and often does -- to any pitcher.
"Yeah, we've looked at that," said Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle, who along with his staff tends to make a science of many things. "We'll look at our own pitchers, and when they're matched up again with a team in a two-week window, they're not as effective. And it is a number that will get your attention."
This tendency -- it's too random to call it a trend -- has less to do with the proverbial adjustments, according to Hurdle, than with mere familiarity making batters more likely to recognize and exploit mistakes.
"You have to look at the tape, at where pitches are being placed," Hurdle said. "Maybe the ball was elevated. ... You jump into it after you've already seen that in a close period of time."
The Bucs know one thing about Wainwright. It's the same thing all baseball players know about any top-notch pitcher. The frequency of his mistakes will diminish as the innings increase. They know they will have to get him, or forget him, early.
"He definitely is a top starter," Andrew McCutchen said. "[He] seems to get better as he pitches through the game. If we can jump on him pretty early, that'll help us out a bit."
"We know what he's gonna do, how he's gonna attack us," Neil Walker said. "We have to be better than we were the last time. Then again, that's why he's one of the better pitchers in the league."
"Wainwright, he's tough," Marlon Byrd said. "We have to try to shake him early, before he gets on a roll."
With these and other players sharing the same thought, it is evident the needed approach against Wainwright had been a clubhouse topic of conversation, and batting coach Jay Bell has doubtless devised a plan of attack.
As for being debriefed on those plans ...
"What I'd like to do is share my game plan with you, so you can get it out there before Wainwright takes the mound," Hurdle said, affably. "I don't know how beneficial that might be for us. We have got some things we might try. We have to get pitches to hit, we have to lay off the breaking ball down, and then we'll see what we can draw up in the dirt moving forward."
Like Hurdle, Wainwright wasn't giving up much about his game plan.
"I couldn't tell you that, could I?" the veteran said. "You'll just have to wait and see. That seems like a scouting report. I'll go out and I'll just try to execute my game plan, which I can not reveal on this set. We will be very prepared. Yadi [catcher Yadier Molina] and I, and the coaching staff, we'll put together a good plan and we'll go from there."
As for the Pirates, they'll try to do the reverse of what Wainwright had them doing on Thursday: Chasing the breaking ball in the dirt, laying off the elevated fastballs.
"He's going to throw some balls over the plate, fastballs and curveballs, and we are going to have to hit them hard," Hurdle said. "Then we'll need to make some things happen when we do get on base.
"We have got to lay off balls down and we have to get good pitches to hit, and we have to make him challenge us and get us out in the strike zone. And [we need to] do all this to a better degree than we did the last couple of times we faced him in St. Louis."
Even doing all that well enough to have Wainwright on the run won't guarantee a victory and a foray deeper into postseason. After the Nats chased him on a 6-0 hook in that Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS, the Cards of course fought back for a 9-7 knockout punch.
But Wainwright will be the first man standing between the Pirates and the Dodgers, who are waiting in the NLCS.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.