Before every game of the ALCS and NLCS, FindTheBest will break down the pitching matchup to see which team has the edge on the mound.
With Clayton Kershaw putting his stamp on this season, it was easy to overlook Adam Wainwright and the rest of the NL's crowded upper-class of pitchers. But the decorated veteran had his best season by ERA (2.38) and WHIP (1.03) while matching his career high in wins (20) and complete games (5). That performance has Wainwright poised to claim his fourth top-3 finish in Cy Young voting.
That’s not to say Cardinals fans have no cause for concern regarding their ace, though. Wainwright’s strikeout rate (7.1 K/9) dropped to the lowest it’s been since 2008, his second season as a starter. His velocity was down a tick in his lone NLDS appearance, when he was tagged for six runs on 11 hits in 4.1 innings.
Those red flags are likely related to the elbow tendinitis Wainwright has been fending off all season, and St. Louis manager Mike Matheny admitted as much this week. When Wainwright takes the mound Saturday, he'll have had seven days of rest since his NLDS outing.
His counterpart, Madison Bumgarner, has been operating on normal four days rest so far in these playoffs with aplomb. The two-time All-Star tamed the Pirates in the NL Wild-Card Game in front of a raucous Pittsburgh crowd that tapered off into silence as the four-hit shutout was spun with apparent ease. He wasn't quite as good in the Giants' Game 3 loss to the Nationals in the division series, but his line (7 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 K) certainly wasn’t anything to be ashamed of, either.
Though St. Louis would seemingly have the upper hand with home-field advantage in this series opener, Bumgarner has fared much better away from San Francisco this year, with a 2.22 ERA on the road compared to a 4.03 ERA at AT&T Park. His two starts against the Cardinals this season reflect that difference, too. Bumgarner three-hit St. Louis in seven innings of work with 10 strikeouts at Busch Stadium on May 30, then gave up five runs (four earned) in five frames against them later on in the season in San Francisco.
All in all, Game 1 has the makings of a classic pitcher's duel. With the way recent history has gone, it probably won’t be the last time we’ll see these two pitchers and teams matched up against each other.
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