Cardinals look to gain ground in standings with chance to sweep

ST. LOUIS – Looking to buy their starting pitchers some rest during the final three weeks of the season, the St. Louis Cardinals have opted for a six-man rotation on this turn through it.

The sixth man goes Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Busch Stadium, where St. Louis tries for a series sweep and to solidify its postseason position.

Rookie Daniel Poncedeleon (0-1, 2.67 ERA) gets the call for the Cardinals, who moved three games ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the National League’s second wild card spot Tuesday night. They routed Pittsburgh 11-5 while Los Angeles continued its season-long pratfall against Cincinnati, losing 3-1 to fall to 0-6 against the Reds.

Poncedeleon will make his first big league appearance against the Pirates and his fourth start in 10 big league games. His last start was Sept. 1, when he retired the first 10 Cincinnati batters he faced and then didn’t get another out in a 4-0 loss, allowing five hits and three runs.

Manager Mike Shildt has sought to juggle the zero-sum mentality of a pennant race with not overworking young starters such as Jack FlahertyAustin Gomber and John Gant. Hence the insertion of Poncedeleon, who in his first major league game fired seven no-hit innings at Cincinnati on July 23.

“It’s a balancing act of rest, who we’re playing and looking at the total schedule and making sure we’re putting our best foot forward,” Shildt said to mlb.com.

With an 81-64 record, including a 34-18 mark under Shildt, St. Louis has certainly done that. Its latest win allowed the Cardinals to pull within 1 1/2 games of Milwaukee, a 3-0 loser at the Chicago Cubs, for the first NL wild card spot.

The Cardinals remain 3 1/2 games behind Chicago for first place in the NL Central.

St. Louis used an offensive explosion over the last three innings to break open a 2-1 game. Its six-run eighth eliminated suspense from the equation, a welcome change from a spate of back-and-forth games that had marked its last eight games.

Tyler O’Neill highlighted the eighth with a three-run, 457-foot homer to left-center, the team’s third-longest blast of the year.

“We’ve been on such an incredible run since Shildt took over,” O’Neill said. “We’ve got the playoffs in our sights.”

All Pittsburgh (71-73) has in its sights is the opportunity to play spoiler over its last 18 games. It will turn to Jameson Taillon (12-9, 3.40) in an attempt to avoid being swept.

Taillon hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in 10 straight starts, going 6-2 in that span and registering eight quality starts.

He notched a 3-2 victory Sept. 5 against Cincinnati, scattering eight hits over five innings and allowing one run with no walks and six strikeouts. Taillon has pitched well in seven career starts against the Cardinals, going 2-1 with a 3.57 ERA and fanning 42 hitters over 40 1/3 innings.

“He’s got a determination and focus that’s real,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said to mlb.com of Taillon. “He’s got a great recall of what he wants to do. He’s got some history in the league now.”