Series Preview 4/3, 4/5-6: Cardinals @ Pirates

Randal Grichuk and Starlin Marte

Both photos are credited to Getty Images.

In the first series of the 2016 regular season, the Cardinals will be at PNC Park for an inner-division matchup with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cardinals and Pirates, owners of the two best win-loss records last season, will meet for nineteen games this year; this series will take care of three of them.

On Opening Day, Sunday, April 3, the Pirates will grant the nod to lefty Francisco Liriano. In four starts against St. Louis in 2015, Liriano held the Cardinals to a collective .202 batting average and allowed ten runs. The Cardinals will hand the ball to Adam Wainwright. Wainwright missed the majority of last year due to a ruptured Achilles tendon he suffered in early April. Wainwright came back at the tail end of the season, appearing in eight innings, including five in the postseason.

After an off day on Monday, the Pirates will turn to Jon Niese on Tuesday. The Pirates acquired Niese from the New York Mets this offseason in exchange for infielder Neil Walker to help eat some of the innings the Bucs lost when A.J. Burnett and J.A. Happ departed from the team over the winter. The 29-year-old left-hander appeared in 33 games (29 starts) for the Mets last season and totaled 176 2/3 innings. Niese will share the mound with Michael Wacha. Look for Wacha to display his cutter, a pitch he tooled with a bit last year and extensively in the recent exhibition season. He hopes to get quicker outs with the pitch, lowering his pitch count and, theoretically, allowing him to work deeper in games. Last season, Wacha logged 181 1/3 innings in 30 starts.

The finale of the three-game set will feature Pittsburgh’s Juan Nicasio and St. Louis’s Mike Leake. Nicasio appeared in 59 games with the Colorado Rockies last season and only one as a starter. In addition to striking out 65, Nicasio surrendered just one home run. The Cardinals signed Mike Leake to a five-year, $80 million deal in December to help fill some vacated innings from a year ago. Leake will be helping replace Lance Lynn, who will be out of commission this season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in November, and John Lackey, who the Cardinals lost to free agency.

Who’s hot?

PIT: Starling Marte, left fielder. In sixteen Grapefruit League games, Marte robbed four bases in addition to slashing .326/.356/.512 and driving in seven runs.

STL: Randal Grichuk, center fielder. In 46 at-bats in exhibition play, Grichuk had fourteen hits, including two home runs and six doubles.

Who’s not?

PIT: Jon Niese, starting pitcher. In fifteen innings (four starts) in the spring, Niese allowed fourteen runs, including three home runs, on eighteen hits and four walks.

STL: Seth Maness, relief pitcher. In just under nine innings of work during spring training, Maness was riled for seven runs on fifteen hits. Opposing batters hit .417 off Maness, who recorded two strikeouts and walked four batters.

Notes:

-Cardinals’ backup catcher Brayan Pena will miss the next 2-4 weeks. Pena needs surgery to remove some loose body from his left knee. Eric Fryer will take Pena’s job while he is on the shelf.

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