Cardinals-Pirates Preview

Even after Thursday night’s finale of a five-game series, the
St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates will play nine more
times over the season’s final two months.

If it were up to the Pirates, they’d probably prefer to get
those in right now.

Pittsburgh looks to become the first team in nearly a century to
sweep the Cardinals in a five-game series as it heads into August
trying to grab a 3 1/2-game lead atop the NL Central.

The Cardinals (62-44) led the Pirates by 2 1/2 games on July 26,
but six days later it’s Pittsburgh (65-42) that has a 2 1/2-game
cushion and the best record in baseball.

The Pirates held St. Louis to three total runs in winning three
times Monday and Tuesday, but the Cardinals’ offense briefly came
to life Wednesday. After scoring four times on 10 hits in the first
four innings, though, St. Louis was held to three hits the rest of
the way as Pittsburgh rallied to win 5-4.

It enters August 23 games above .500 for the first time since
1972.

“We can win just about every way possible,” manager Clint
Hurdle said.

A Pirates win Thursday would complete the first sweep of the
Cardinals in a series of at least five games since the New York
Giants took six in September 1916. Pittsburgh’s last five-game
sweep came against the San Francisco Giants in September 1996.

The Pirates have the Cardinals on the verge of their first
eight-game skid since September 2007, and they’ve won six straight
in this series for the first time since 1992 – the franchise’s last
winning season. Pittsburgh has outscored St. Louis 36-10 in that
stretch, pounding out 23 extra-base hits to the Cardinals’
seven.

St. Louis hasn’t homered in those six games and has hit just one
in 13 contests since the All-Star break.

The Cardinals have only hit four homers in the 11 games Charlie
Morton (3-2, 3.59 ERA) has started against them, but they’ve been
productive in many other ways. The right-hander is 2-7 with a 6.17
ERA against St. Louis, though he has a 3.18 ERA in five starts in
the series at PNC Park.

Allen Craig is 7 for 12 against Morton, yet the majors’ best
hitter with runners in scoring position (.465) isn’t exactly
thriving at the plate right now. His first-inning single Wednesday
broke an 0-for-23 skid, but he went hitless in his final four
at-bats.

Matt Carpenter got the night off Wednesday in the midst of a
2-for-24 road trip, while All-Star catcher Yadier Molina was placed
on the disabled list with a strained right knee.

“There’s something we’re not doing, and we know we’re not doing
it and fixing it,” manager Mike Matheny said.

Morton has allowed 18 baserunners over 11 2-3 innings in his
last two starts, but has won them both. He gave up four runs and
nine hits over five innings Saturday in a 7-4 victory at Miami.

He’ll be opposed by Joe Kelly (1-3, 3.44), who earned himself
another shot at St. Louis’ very vacant No. 5 starter spot with an
impressive outing Saturday in Atlanta. The right-hander held the
Braves scoreless for 6 1-3 innings in the Cardinals’ 2-0 loss.

“Very, very impressive,” Matheny said. “It was maybe the best
I’ve ever seen him throw. Everything. His aggressiveness, his
slider, breaking ball, changeup; all of them were as good as I’ve
seen.”

Kelly is 0-2 with a 6.43 ERA in five games – one start – against
the Pirates. He gave up four runs and three hits – including a
two-run homer to Russell Martin – while getting just one out in
relief during a 5-3 loss April 27.

Pittsburgh left fielder Starling Marte has hit safely in all 11
career games against St. Louis, posting a .444 on-base
percentage.