Five things about Monday’s MLB playoff games

Freddy Garcia. (John Bazemore/AP)

The Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox missed the playoffs in 2012, but all three are now on the brink of advancing to the League Championship Series. With wins Monday, those three teams will advance.

Here are the five things you need to know in advance of today’s Division Series matchups:

More history in the making

If the Pirates are victorious, they’ll win a playoff series for the first time since defeating the Baltimore Orioles in the 1979 World Series.

The Dodgers and Red Sox have both won playoff series more recently (2009 and 2008 respectively).

Watch the MLB playoffs on Sportsnet Monday | TV schedule

Young starters: a playoff prerequisite?

Three of Monday’s starters—Jarrod Parker, Alex Cobb and Michael Wacha—had barely pitched at the MLB level before last year. At first glance, that seems unusual. Why would teams rely on such inexperienced starters with the season on the line? Well, it’s now the norm for playoff teams.

Here are the pre arbitration-eligible pitchers who played significant roles for their post-season clubs:

Boston Red Sox: Felix Doubront

Tampa Bay Rays: Cobb, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Chris Archer

Detroit Tigers: N/A

Oakland Athletics: Parker, A.J. Griffin, Tommy Milone, Dan Straily, Sonny Gray

Cleveland Indians: Danny Salazar, Zach McAllister, Corey Kluber

Atlanta Braves: Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Alex Wood

St. Louis Cardinals: Wacha, Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn

Cincinnati Reds: Tony Cingrani

Pittsburgh Pirates: Jeff Locke, Gerrit Cole

Los Angeles Dodgers: Hyun-jin Ryu

That’s 24 pitchers (2.4 per playoff team on average), most of whom are earning the MLB minimum in 2013. A lot must go right for teams to reach the playoffs and in many cases, the emergence of reliable young starters proves to be a difference maker.

No homers for Morneau

Justin Morneau had 17 home runs when the Pirates acquired him August 31, but he has yet to hit one in 110 plate appearances with his new team (regular and post-season included).

In the meantime, another mid-season acquisition, Marlon Byrd, has a 1.042 OPS in the playoffs.

MLB Playoff Tracker : Stay up to date on the MLB post-season

Lefties hit Garcia

Watch for Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez of the Dodgers to have a big day at the plate. The left-handed hitters are facing Braves starter Freddy Garcia, who has trouble against lefty bats. Despite a 1.65 ERA, opponents posted a .782 OPS against Garcia this year, with that number jumping to .864 against left-handed hitters.

If Garcia hits any speed bumps, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez shouldn’t stick with him too long in an elimination game preceding a day off.

Bullpens ready

The Tigers and Athletics have well-rested bullpens following strong starting pitching appearances in the first two games of the ALDS and a travel day Sunday.

Each pitcher to start a game in this series has gone at least six innings, meaning most relievers have yet to pitch. Drew Smyly is the only reliever to pitch in both games and, after logging 76 innings of relief during the regular season, the left-hander has proven his durability.

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