Today, Adam Wainwright starts at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 1 of the National League Division Series (Central-WC winner).
The story here, for everyone not rooting for St. Louis, is the Pittsburgh Pirates, making their first return to the postseason in more than 20 years, following a futile two decades without even a winning season.
For Cardinals' fans, the story is the Cardinals triumphant return to the postseason, after capping an up-and-down season with a six-game home stand winning streak and the best record in the National League.
This leaves the Cardinals at a certain advantage. Three of the potential five games will be played in St. Louis, and the Pirates will be modestly limited by having lost an opportunity to rest and select the starter of their choice in the play-in game.
Adam Wainwright is as good as, and by most reckoning better than, anyone on the Pittsburgh staff. The Cardinals will have the luxury of starting him twice at home.
Wainwright's success is owed to a solid, though not commanding strikeout rate -- 22.9%; a miniscule walk rate -- 3.7%; and an above-average groundball rate -- 49.4%. None of these skills in isolation would make you an ace, but putting this triple threat together does. Wainwright just finished a career year as a starter and shows no sign of decline.
He is an outstanding pitcher and no stranger to the postseason, appearing in the 2006 postseason, including the World Series, the 2009 postseason, and the 2012 postseason. He watched the 2011 World Series from the bench as he recovered from surgery. He has a 2.48 ERA, a 3.17 FIP, and a 2.40 xFIP across all postseaon play.
AJ Burnett is a fine pitcher as well. He strikes out 26% of all batters he faces, but struggles more to keep his walk rate down, letting 8.4% of all batters reach first without hitting the ball in fair territory. He has seen a sharp uptick in his groundball rate in the past two seasons, putting 56% of all balls in play on the ground in both 2012 and 2013.
Burnett appeared in the postseason in 2009, 2010, and 2011 with the Yankees, but has never seen much success in the postseason; he has a 5.08 ERA, 4.72 FIP, and 4.98 xFIP in postseason play. That probably says more about the fact that Burnett struggled in each of those years with the Yankees than some general unfitness to play in the postseason. Though he was on the Marlins roster in 2003, he did not pitch in the World Series due to injury.
The Cardinals have a chance to start the series off right: with their ace on the mound and playing at home, they can score an early victory. Let's hope they manage to do so.