PITTSBURGH — It's one of those meaningful series in September with playoff implications that the baseball world will be watching.
But when the St. Louis Cardinals open a three-game set with a Labor Day matinee against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park, neither team will exactly come steaming into the game.
St. Louis, at least, will be coming off a win. The Cardinals had lost three in a row but avoided a sweep at Cincinnati with a 5-2 win Sunday.
Pittsburgh has lost a season-worst six games in a row and has been shut out in three of those games, including a 10-0 loss at home Sunday against Milwaukee, which swept a weekend series.
The Cardinals (71-64) hold the second wild-card spot in the National League, 3 1/2 games ahead of the Pirates.
Asked if his club could shake off the six losses and give the Cardinals a series, Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle managed a smile.
“Oh, my goodness, yes,” he said. “This is what life's all about. Do you just fold up your bag and go home? That's not an option. You get to play a meaningful game in September because they've earned it.”
The Pirates fell to .500, at 67-67, Sunday. They were outscored 18-4 by the Brewers in the three weekend games.
“It magnifies everything else when you don't score runs,” Hurdle said. “We got shut out two out of three games. We carved a little offense out of the in-between game.
“We've got to fight to get the leadoff hitter on base. That's No. 1. And then the at-bats, it becomes that battle in the box, getting a strike, getting that pitch you want to hit and hitting it hard somewhere. That is it. That's all we need to focus on.”
The Pirates have been getting good starts lately from their pitching, even if the bullpen has been shaky at times.
Rookie Chad Kuhl ((3-2, 3.70 ERA) will be making his 10th major league start Monday, first against St. Louis. He has lost his past two decisions but has given up just 12 runs over his past six starts.
At the other end of the spectrum is St. Louis' scheduled starter, veteran Adam Wainwright (9-8, 4.53 ERA), who this season has been trying to prove he's still effective.
He has not earned a win in his past eight starts, although Tuesday at Milwaukee, he allowed just one run on three hits over seven innings with seven strikeouts and no walks in a no-decision on his 35th birthday.
“Going into the game, I tried to forget about everything that's gone on this year,” Wainwright told ESPN.com. “I watched only '13 and '14 film of me. I wanted to remember that guy. Not this other fellow who's been pitching this year.”
Offensively, the Cardinals have been going heavy on the long ball. They have hit a homer in a franchise-record 23 games in a row.
They are just 12-11 in those games, but manager Mike Matheny isn't looking to rein in the power.
“I'll take home runs,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this weekend. “Home runs are a good way to produce offense. It's been helping us all year long. And it will continue to.
“It's not like we're sitting there striking out 20 times a game and popping up all day long. There were some good defensive plays made against us all day long.”
Hurdle, meanwhile, is hoping for some runs by any means from the Pirates.
“We're just not meeting the demands of the game,” he said. “The preparation is there. The focus is there. … At the end of the day, there's no runs on the board two out of three games (over the weekend). That makes it hard.”