The Cardinals and Pirates have played the kind of series that makes you wish the first round lasted seven games, or nine, or 33. It has been four games of irresistible baseball: youthful pitchers with jet fuel in their arms, rabid home crowds, veteran hitters delivering in huge moments, wild pendulum swings. It will end in a few hours, when Gerrit Cole faces Adam Wainwright, one of the best young pitchers squaring off against of the best, period.
After it’s over, everyone watching can solace in the knowledge that the Pirates and Cardinals will likely meet again in Octobers to come. One will go home tonight, but both teams are here to stay.
The Cardinals have a reputation as the established team, but really they are built on their incredible drafting and development. They have the second-youngest pitching staff in baseball, by average age. For years, opposing hitters will have to deal with Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly and Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez and Kevin Siegrest. Adam Wainwright may be 32, but he is under contract through 2018.
On offense, the Cardinals have an MVP-candidate second baseman in Matt Carpenter, who won’t become eligible for arbitration until after next season. First baseman Matt Adams just turned 25 and slugged .503 as a rookie. Yadier Molina is still 31 and signed through 2018. Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran will not last forever, but the rest of their team is so young – and therefore, so cheap – the Cardinals will have the financial flexibility to replace them on the run when necessary.
And we almost forgot to mention 21-year-old outfield prospect Oscar Taveras. Despite ankle surgery that limited him to 47 games this year, he may be the best minor league hitter in baseball.
The Pirates have been led by veteran position players and the 11th-oldest pitching staff in baseball. But many will soon be replaced by pieces of one of the best farm systems in baseball. The Cardinals have Miller-Kelly-Wacha, and the Pirates will soon counter with Cole and Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow.
Pittsburgh controls Andrew McCutchen’s contractual rights through 2018. They may need offensive punch, but they can acquire it in a trade with some of the minor league pieces. The Pirates suffered through 21 consecutive losing seasons, but it appears they won’t face another one of those anytime soon, no matter what happens tonight.
Eliminating the Cardinals has proven to be baseball’s hardest task – just ask the Nationals. But if the Pirates lose tonight, they’ll still have plenty to look forward to.
Pittsburgh Pirates at St. Louis Cardinals, 8:07 p.m., TBS
Pirates: Cole (1-0, 1.50) | Cardinals: Wainwright (1-0, 1.29)