10/8/2013 6:49 P.M. ET
Hurdle predicts pickup from Marte-Walker duo
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- Trying to define and grasp the Pirates' 2013 success? Take it from the top: Starling Marte, moving in as the leadoff batter, electrified what had been a dull spot; more recently, Neil Walker in the No. 2 hole doubled the opportunities for the run producers in the middle of the lineup.
Documentation should be unnecessary by now, but if you need proof: Numerous leadoff hitters last season combined to score 83 runs with an on-base percentage of .291. Despite missing a month late in this season, Marte by himself matched those 83 runs and had an OBP of .343. Walker became the permanent No. 2 hitter against right-handed starters in mid-August, and the Bucs took off.
They have been such keys to turning Pittsburgh's offense loose, it is surprising -- and should be encouraging -- that the Pirates are one win away from the National League Championship Series despite the duo's silence.
Marte (1-for-15) and Walker (0-for-16) have combined to go 1-for-31 atop the lineup. The lone run between them came on Marte's add-on solo homer in the Bucs' 7-1 win in Game 2. Not having them on base helps explain why Andrew McCutchen is still looking to drive in his first NL Division Series run, although he is batting .357.
But if you expect a shakeup for Game 5 from Clint Hurdle -- the "refine, not reinvent" manager -- move on.
"Not contemplating any changes. This is Game 168. These men are both capable, and they have done it in the past," said Hurdle. "We have been pitched effectively in a couple different spots. I have every confidence that [Wednesday] night will be the night that they get going."
Cole embraces 'high-pressure situation'
ST. LOUIS -- At PNC Park, the Pirates have depended on their 10th Man, those crowds clad in black that raised a racket and likely the hairs on the backs of some of the Cardinals' necks.
At Busch Stadium on Wednesday, the Bucs will rely on their Ninth Man, Gerrit Cole.
That's right. Cole became the ninth pitcher to start a game for the Pirates this season when he made his Major League debut on June 11. James McDonald, Jonathan Sanchez, Jeanmar Gomez and Phil Irwin all came before him.
Now, the rookie right-hander will take the ball in the club's biggest game in 21 years -- Game 5 of the National League Division Series against the Cards (8 p.m. ET on TBS).
Cole is ready for it.
"This is obviously an exciting time, a high-pressure situation," Cole said. "But this is what you prepare for, why you work out in the offseason, so you can be physically and mentally ready to go in big moments like this.
"We didn't announce until [Monday] night who was starting, so I just kept my head down and took care of my business. Now I know I have the ball, and I'm ready to go. Can't wait."
Bucs unplug in preparation for Game 5
ST. LOUIS -- While the Cardinals were working out at Busch Stadium on Tuesday, the Pirates were still in Pittsburgh, having nice lunches before making their leisurely way to PNC Park for a late-afternoon flight to St. Louis for Game 5 of the National League Division Series on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET on TBS).
The Bucs' NLDS timeout may have displeased some, particularly media hungry for off-day access and stories. But manager Clint Hurdle and his team were merely being consistent. To counter last season's poor track record after a day off (7-9), Hurdle came up with a concrete plan.
Think of it like a take on a general manager's "best move never made."
"Sometimes, you've just got to get away from it. Unplug," Hurdle once explained. "We encouraged -- no, ordered -- the guys to just disengage, come back fresh the next day."
Hurdle's terms of disengagement have worked for a 2013 record of 14-6 following scheduled off-days (the Pirates also won following their only rainout of the season). That record already includes two wins this postseason -- in the NL Wild Card Game over the Reds and in Game 3 of the NLDS over the Redbirds.
First number, last word
4: Combined hits by the Pirates and the Cardinals in St. Louis' 2-1 victory in Game 4, the fewest hits by both teams in the Bucs' 94-game postseason history.
"We've worked extremely hard all season, so we're earning our way. You have to continue to earn your way here, especially late in the postseason. Not much is given to you." -- Hurdle
• It was largely overlooked, but the Pirates' wins in Games 2 and 3 of the NLDS handed the Cardinals their first back-to-back losses since Sept. 2-3.
• Feats in this NLDS by Bucs players invariably raise references to 1992, when the club made its last postseason appearance. But by driving in at least one run in each of Pittsburgh's five games this postseason, Pedro Alvarez has harkened all the way back to the Roaring '20s.
The only other Pirates player to have a comparable RBI streak was Clyde Barnhart, who drove in a run in seven consecutive World Series games in 1925 and '27.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.