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Burnett, Bucs Become National Darlings Of National League Playoffs

By Matt Popchock
Pirates celebrate Wild Card win

(Photo Credit: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

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PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — On Tuesday the rest of Major League Baseball watched as the Pirates, at the expense of the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Wild Card Game, enjoyed one of the watershed moments in franchise history. So what’s next?

A best-of-five National League Division Series with the NL Central champion Cardinals awaits the Battlin’ Buccos, who have become one of the biggest feel-good stories of the year in professional sports.

How did that happen? Ted Berg, a writer for the USA Today Sports blog “For The Win,” breaks down some of the serious–and not-so-serious–reasons why, die-hard Redbird backers not withstanding, America will be rooting for the Pirates.

One of those things could determine whether or not the Bucs get this series, which begins Thursday in St. Louis at 5:07 on SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan with A.J. Burnett facing Adam Wainwright, off to a good start: Burnett’s breaking stuff.

“The veteran Burnett has hinted that he could retire after this season, meaning the playoffs might be the last opportunity fans have to enjoy his tantalizing Uncle Charlie,” Berg writes. “He threw it 35 percent of the time in 2013, the highest rate of curveballs among NL starters.”

He’s a logical choice by Pirates manager Clint Hurdle to open the series, having gone 3-1 against the Cards with a 3.67 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 37 K’s against just nine walks. He’ll be looking to exorcise some personal demons after posting an 8.10 ERA in three previous 2013 appearances at Busch Stadium.

According to BrooksBaseball.net, in those four aforementioned decisions, plus one no-decision in game one of a July 30 doubleheader at PNC Park, most of the strikeouts recorded by Burnett came on curveballs.

Click here to read the full post by Berg.

Burnett, who was traded to the Pirates from the New York Yankees in 2012, went 2-2 with a 5.08 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in five career playoff outings with the Bombers. This regular season he went 10-11 in 30 starts and 191 innings with a 3.30 ERA, a 1.22 WHIP, and a 9.8 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio that led the National League.

The 36-year-old impending free agent became the first right-handed Pirates pitcher in history to strike out 200 hitters in a single season, finishing fifth in the league with 209.

Meanwhile, Hurdle announced early Wednesday evening that rookie Gerrit Cole will be on the hill for Friday’s Game 2 (1:07 PM Friday on The Fan), with Wild Card winner Francisco Liriano starting Game 3 at PNC Park Sunday, and Charlie Morton getting the nod for a potential Game 4 at PNC Park Monday (start times of both to be announced).

The left-handed Liriano has owned the Cardinals, going 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA in 2013, whereas Morton has struggled, going 0-2 with a 7.90 ERA. Cole has yet to face them.

Hurdle added, if necessary, Burnett would start Game 5 in St. Louis as well.

Live coverage of NLDS Game 1 gets underway with Dan Zangrilli and Kevin Orie on “Pirates Preview” just after 3:00 Thursday on 93.7 The Fan, your flagship home for Pirates playoff baseball.

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