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Preview: Pirates square off against weakened, but still tough, Cardinals squad

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Here are the details on the Pirates' first series of the year, pitting the two teams with the best 2015 regular-season records.

Sunday, 1:05: RHP Adam Wainwright vs. LHP Francisco Liriano
Tuesday, 7:05: RHP Michael Wacha vs. LHP Jon Niese
Wednesday, 7:05: RHP Mike Leake vs. RHP Juan Nicasio

I just wrote 2,000 words on the Cardinals' offseason for MLBTR, so I'll keep it rather brief here.

-P- TL;DR: The Cardinals lost a considerable amount of talent this offseason with Jason Heyward and John Lackey heading to the Cubs. To make up for Lackey's departure and Lance Lynn's season-ending elbow injury, they added Mike Leake from the Reds, and of course Wainwright figures to be healthier this year. But the Cardinals are going to have a hard time making up for Heyward's departure, and perhaps an even harder time replicating their success pitching with runners in scoring position last season. It goes without saying, though, that they should be tough yet again.

-P- The Cardinals are already down two shortstops. First they lost Jhonny Peralta to a thumb injury, and then they signed Ruben Tejada, who they'll now have to place on the DL with a quad strain. That leaves Morgantown's own Jedd Gyorko -- a not-quite-shortstop they acquired over the winter in a weird trade for Jon Jay -- as their regular shortstop until Tejada gets healthy.

-P- The Cards are also pretty thin at the catcher position. Yadier Molina had two thumb surgeries over the offseason and didn't hit well in Spring Training. And they just lost newly-acquired backup catcher Brayan Pena to a knee injury which means that their backup catcher for this series will be old friend Eric Fryer, who they'd signed to a minor-league deal.

(Fryer isn't terribly important here, but since I can't help myself: Fryer collected 34 plate appearances for the Bucs in 2011 and 2012, netting just eight hits, all singles. Since playing for the Pirates' last two losing teams, he's been in the Twins organization. Serious nerd extra-credit points to anyone who can name the other player the Pirates received when they traded Eric Hinske to the Yankees for Fryer in 2009.)

-P- The Cardinals will have a couple new relievers, including Rule 5 pick Matt Bowman, but the one you want to watch out for is Seung-Hwan Oh, a 33-year-old who pitched in Japan the past two years and was with the Samsung Lions in Korea for nine seasons before that. His biographical details are now familiar -- the awesome "Final Boss" nickname, the 357 saves in 11 seasons in Asia -- but it's unclear how he'll fare in the majors. He had a pretty good spring, though, and the $5 million or so the Cardinals guaranteed him suggests they're bullish on his chances of success here.

-P- The most heavily-watched game of this series will, of course, be the Wainwright-Liriano matchup on Opening Day, but it's Wednesday's game that interests me most. We'll get to see, at least for one game, how Juan Nicasio's fine Spring Training performance will translate in a regular-season game against a solid lineup.

-P- Note, also, that the Pirates face three righties this series and have a day off in the middle, which likely means John Jaso will start all three games at first.