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The Strike Zone

NLDS Game 2 Previews: Pirates at Cardinals; Dodgers at Braves

Gerrit Cole, Pirates The Pirates are hoping Gerrit Cole can even their NLDS before the series heads to Pittsburgh. (Keith Srakocic/AP)

The dominance of their opponents' Game 1 starters put the Pirates and the Braves in need of wins heading into Friday Night's Game 2s. The likelihood of each team pulling out that win, however, is very different.

Pirates at Cardinals

Start time: 1:00 p.m. ET

TV: MLB Network

Starting pitchers: Gerrit Cole (10-7, 3.22 ERA) vs. Lance Lynn (15-10, 3.97 ERA)

The Game 1 matchup of Adam Wainwright and A.J. Burnett proved as unfavorable for Pittsburgh in reality as it looked on paper, and for the Pirates to avoid a recurrence of that rematch in Game 5, they need to win the next three games. That sounds like a tall order, but Pittsburgh has a clear edge in Game 3 with Wild Card Game hero Francisco Liriano starting against Joe Kelly at PNC Park, and they have the edge on the mound in this game as well.

If you told a Pirates fan in March that Gerrit Cole, the top overall pick in the 2011 draft, would be starting a crucial playoff game for the Bucs come October, they would have been elated. Cole, who turned 23 last month, made his major league debut on June 11 and pitched well enough in his first 11 starts (5-5, 3.95 ERA, 6.4 K/9), but he really turned it on over his last eight, going 5-2 with a 2.28 ERA, 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings and just one home run allowed. It's true that the only winning team he faced over that stretch was a badly slumping Rangers team, but he only got stronger as the season progressed (4-0, 1.69 ERA, 11.0 K/9 in September).

In 19 major league starts, Cole has only allowed as many as four runs twice and has completed the fifth inning all 19 times. In seven road starts (4-2, 2.38 ERA) he has allowed as many as three runs just once and completed the sixth inning all seven times. The Cardinals have never seen Cole, who throws in the upper 90s with a slider, curve, and changeup all in the 80s.

His opponent today, Lance Lynn, also finished strong against weak competition (2-0, 1.09 ERA, 10.9 K/9 in his last four starts, all against losing teams), but had gone five turns without a quality start prior to that including a pair of starts against the Pirates (one at home, one in Pittsburgh) in which he gave up 11 runs in 9 1/3 innings. In total, Lynn posted a 5.60 ERA in five starts against the Bucs this season (two good, three bad). Pirates leadoff hitter Starling Marte has been particularly effective against Lynn, going 6-for-13 (.462) with three extra base hits and, curiously, three hit-by-pitches.

Look for Marte, who took an 0-fer against Wainwright in Game 1 but went 2-for-5 with a double and a run scored in the Wild Card Game, to ignite Pittsburgh's offense on Friday. If Marte and the Pirates can make things happen early, they could change the tone of this series. However, if Lynn pitches up to his home splits (9-3, 2.82 ERA, just three home runs allowed in 16 starts), the Bucs' fate could be sealed. Either way, the specter of another Wainwright home start will hang over everything the Pirates do in the intervening games.

Dodgers at Braves

Start time: 6:00 p.m. ET

TV: TBS

Starting pitchers: Zack Greinke (15-4, 2.63 ERA) vs. Mike Minor (13-9, 3.21 ERA)

The Braves didn't have much of a chance against presumptive Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw in Game 1, and things don't look much brighter for Game 2  with Zack Greinke towing the rubber for the Dodgers. Over his final 16 starts in the regular season, Greinke went 9-2 with a 1.57 ERA and allowed more than two runs just once. Just two of those 16 starts weren't quality: a seven-inning, four-run outing against the Reds and his penultimate start, in which he threw five scoreless innings but was lifted after 72 pitches to lighten his load coming into the postseason. In his lone start against the Braves this year, Greinke twirled seven scoreless innings and struck out seven in seven innings.

Facing a pitcher of such high quality again puts pressure on Atlanta's starter, pressure Kris Medlen did not handle well in Game 1. Twenty-five-year-old lefty Mike Minor, in just his second full year in the Braves' rotation, had an excellent season, but went just 2-4 with a 4.45 ERA over his final nine starts and is currently 22 innings past his previous career high (majors and minors combined). Minor handles righties well, but he has been a touch homer prone in his home ballpark (1.2 HR/9 compared to a league average of 0.9 at Turner Field), which is friendly to lefthanded power hitters (calling Adrian Gonzalez, who homered in Game 1 and has one home run in five previous at-bats against Minor) and has given up seven home runs in his last six starts.

The one positive indicator for the Braves in this matchup is the fact that Greinke has a 6.48 ERA in three previous postseason starts. Those all came in 2011, when Greinke was with the Brewers and there are three unearned runs on his record which don't factor into that ugly ERA. Still, three starts in a single postseason does not a pattern make, and that poor performance should give Greinke extra impetus to prove himself Friday night.
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