Cards face Pirates in a three-game, not-yet-must-win series

ST. LOUIS — With two more series to come with the Pirates after this week, this upcoming three-game set hardly is a must-win for the Cardinals in the race for the NL Central. Only three games separate the teams heading into Tuesday night.

But in the race for respect, the Cardinals could use a couple of victories. Their struggles against Pittsburgh are not limited to this season. No team over the past four years owns more wins against the Cardinals than the Pirates, who are 28-28 and the only Central team with even a .500 record against St. Louis in that stretch.

Some of the numbers have been especially ugly for the Cardinals in 2013:

* The Cardinals have lost seven of the first 10 meetings. Turn that record around and the Pirates would be in second place.

* In the seven losses, the Cardinals have been shut out three times and held to 1, 2, 3 and 4 runs in the others.

* Matt Carpenter is 5 for 34, Yadier Molina 4 for 24, David Freese 3 for 27, Daniel Descalso 2 for 18 and Matt Adams 1 for 13 against the Pirates. On the positive ledger, Jon Jay and Matt Holliday both are hitting better than .350 and Carlos Beltran has two homers and four doubles.

* Cardinals pitchers have limited the NL’s leading home run hitter, Pedro Alvarez, to one homer and a .184 batting average, but he has driven in nine runs against them.

* Of Pirates catcher Russell Martin’s 10 homers, three have been hit against the Cardinals. Martin also drove in the winning run in a 5-4 victory last month that extended the Cardinals’ losing streak to seven.

The Cardinals really haven’t risen out of their worst funk of the season since they left Pittsburgh. They won two of three at Cincinnati but then dropped three of four to the Dodgers and two of three to the Cubs over the weekend. St. Louis salvaged the series finale Sunday with an 8-4 victory.

The Pirates, meantime, were cooled off in Colorado by being swept by the Rockies. Francisco Liriano, who dominated the Cardinals last month, was blasted for 10 runs in 2 1/3 innings against the Rockies. He will start Wednesday night’s game against Shelby Miller.

A.J. Burnett will oppose Lance Lynn in the series finale Thursday afternoon. In 20 innings over three starts against the Cardinals this season, Burnett has allowed three runs and struck out 23.

Tuesday night starter Adam Wainwright, looking for his first win in his past four starts, has a chance to get the Cardinals off on the right foot. He will oppose Charlie Morton, who has lost both of his starts to St. Louis this season while giving up 10 earned runs in 10 1/3 innings.

The teams’ other six meetings will come in a 10-day stretch starting Aug. 30. If the Cardinals can gain back a little respect by then, those two series could loom large in the division race.

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