With the Pittsburgh Pirates' back-to-back wins in St. Louis on Friday and in Pittsburgh Sunday afternoon, the team is one victory shy of advancing to the National League Championship Series. In each of the Pirates' two wins this series, pitching has played a key role, and Monday's matchup with the Cardinals will be no different.
Gerrit Cole provided a masterful performance in Pittsburgh's 7-1 beatdown of the Cardinals on Friday, scattering two hits, one earned run and one walk through six innings.
Francisco Liriano followed the mantra of bending but not breaking Sunday in the Pirates' 5-3 win in which the staff ace went six innings, allowing three hits and two earned runs.
The offense showed up, which was the key to the game, and the Pirates battled back twice to regain the lead and capture the crucial victory at PNC Park.
Monday's game pits groundball wizard Charlie Morton against rookie Michael Wacha.
Wacha was strong in September, posting a 2-1 record with a 1.72 ERA in five starts. In his last start of the year against the Washington Nationals, the 22-year-old carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning, only to see it broken up with two outs.
In nine career innings against the Pirates, Wacha has not surrendered a run and has struck out six. He has not faced the Pirates at PNC Park.
In 64.2 innings this season, the right-hander has been dominant against left-handed hitters, sporting a .197 opponent's batting average.
For the Pirates, getting to Wacha will be a relatively new experience. The same cannot be said for Morton and the Cardinals.
In three starts against St. Louis this year, Morton is 0-2 with a 7.90 ERA. That equates to yielding 12 earned runs in his 13.2 innings pitched. One of those starts, an Aug. 1 encounter, was at PNC Park in which Morton surrendered five earned runs and 10 hits in six innings.
In his other eight starts at PNC Park this year, Morton is 2-1 and has a 2.28 ERA. Getting the groundball out will be the key for Morton, as he is one of the best in the league at that facet of the game.
Among starters with a minimum of 50 innings pitched, Morton (62.9 percent) is second to only Jaime Garcia (63.0 percent) in groundball percentage. Morton (116) has more than double the innings pitched than Garcia (55.1), who has been out since May with a shoulder injury.
Neutralizing the Cardinals lineup will be integral if the Pirates hope to advance to the NLCS.
The Cardinals hit Morton very well, which can be seen via ESPN's batter vs. pitcher breakdown, with Carlos Beltran (.400), Matt Carpenter (.375), Jon Jay (.500), Yadier Molina (.421) and Matt Holliday (.321) standing out as potential trouble spots.
As a team, the starting lineup for the Cardinals hits .373 (40-for-107) against Morton.
If Morton cannot establish his sinker and get the groundball working, the Cardinals offense could jump on him like it has in the past.
Game 4 from PNC Park starts at 3:07 p.m. EDT and can be seen on TBS.