What does Yadi's absence mean for Pirates?

Bucs may have more options but won't necessarily enjoy a stealing extravaganza, cautions Hurdle

What does Yadi's absence mean for Pirates?

PITTSBURGH -- Yadier Molina, the most irreplaceable Cardinals player, has to be replaced for this showdown series with the Pirates. Tony Cruz is behind the plate for St. Louis, with Molina recovering from a torn ligament in his left thumb.

Big advantage, Bucs. Will they flash the green light to burners Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco (56 stolen bases between them)?

Don't be too smug about that, cautioned manager Clint Hurdle.

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"Cruz has worked hard, I'm sure, for this opportunity. He's got a strong arm," Hurdle said. "It's not like you can run at will, because their [pitching] staff, historically, has been good at controlling the running game."

Recent history bears out Hurdle's caution. Since the start of the 2013 season, while the Cardinals have predictably been a tougher foe with Molina in their lineup -- the Bucs are 19-24 when he's been in there, compared to 7-4 when he has not -- the difference has not been on the bases.

In games caught by Molina, the Pirates have been successful on 10 of 15 steal attempts. But they have run only .500 (6 of 12) with someone else behind the plate for the Cardinals.

Still, Molina is the bigger deterrent, by reputation the biggest in MLB.

Polanco swipes second

"There might be a window of opportunity that wasn't there before," Hurdle said. "We're gonna find out. But it's not like they've gone in a tailspin with [Cruz] behind the plate. But it still might be a little different for us; we might have an opportunity to do some things we normally woudn't.

"Cruz is a capable guy, a Major League guy. But he's not the other guy -- not many people are."

Perhaps the best direct precedent occured in the middle of the 2013 season, when the Cardinals came to Pittsburgh for a rainout-created five-game series to protect a 1 1/2-game National League Central lead. Molina sprained his right knee early in the second game, immediately landing on the disabled list.

The Bucs won the first four games of that series and sent the Cardinals on their way in second place. That was in early August, so the Redbirds had plenty of time to regroup and take the division title. Is time now on the Pirates' side?

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 and on his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.