Cardinals-Pirates Preview

The St. Louis Cardinals’ margin for error is slim, but their
impressive past three weeks have put them where they’re generally
accustomed to being as the season winds down – in contention for a
playoff spot.

The Pittsburgh Pirates, meanwhile, are on the cusp of completing
their own September ritual.

With their sights on the NL Central and wild-card races, the
Cardinals try to win for a seventh time in eight games and send the
Pirates to their major league-record 19th consecutive losing season
Wednesday afternoon at PNC Park.

St. Louis (80-68) trailed Milwaukee by 10 games in the Central
and Atlanta by 10 1/2 in the wild-card standings on Aug. 25, but it
hasn’t looked like an out-of-contention team the last few
weeks.

The Cardinals, who have made the postseason seven times since
2000, have gone 13-5 since then to put some heat on the Brewers and
Braves. After losing Monday’s opener 6-5, St. Louis bounced back
Tuesday, overcoming three Albert Pujols errors in a 6-4 win.

It remained 6 1/2 behind Milwaukee and 4 1/2 behind Atlanta,
though, as both clubs also won.

“We still got a huge hole to climb out of, but at least we’re
playing some meaningful baseball in September,” said Nick Punto,
who drove in the go-ahead run with a double in the ninth.

As the Cardinals fight to get back into contention, the Pirates’
brief foray into first place in late July has given way to the same
seemingly inevitable ending they’ve experienced since 1992 – a
losing season.

Pittsburgh (67-81) set a major North American professional
sports record with its 18th straight sub-.500 finish in 2010, and
Tuesday set it up to extend that run of misery. Since sharing the
Central lead with St. Louis on July 26, the Pirates’ 14-34 record
is the NL’s worst.

“We haven’t done enough things in a number of these games that
have put us in position to have 81 losses. That’s where we are
right now,” manager Clint Hurdle said.

Pittsburgh tries to avoid loss No. 82 for at least one day
against Edwin Jackson (11-9, 3.75 ERA), who’s been the Cardinals’
most consistent starter since arriving from the White Sox in late
July.

His 3.39 ERA in that span is the rotation’s best, and that
number shrinks to 2.45 minus one woeful start against the Brewers
in his second outing with St. Louis. Jackson is 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA
over his last four starts, which included holding the Braves to two
runs over six innings Friday in a critical, 4-3 win in 10
innings.

Jackson is 3-0 with a 3.24 ERA in four career starts against the
Pirates. He gave up four runs – three unearned – over six innings
Aug. 25 in an 8-4 win over Pittsburgh at Busch Stadium.

The Pirates counter with Charlie Morton (9-9, 3.81), who’s been
given three additional days of rest after allowing four runs and
seven hits over 4 1-3 innings in a 6-3 loss to the Cubs on Sept.
4.

Morton is 0-3 with a 7.71 ERA over his last three starts, and at
153 2-3 innings he’s thrown 29 more than he had in any previous
season in professional baseball.

“I feel fine when I go out there,” Morton told the Pirates’
official website. “I’m not chalking it up to fatigue.”

Morton is 2-4 with a 6.69 ERA in eight career starts versus St.
Louis, with Skip Schumaker (10 for 20) and Lance Berkman (7 for 12,
two homers) among those doing the damage.

He may not have to worry about Matt Holliday, however, after the
five-time All-Star left Tuesday’s win with a hand injury. He’ll be
examined Wednesday.