Cardinals-Pirates Preview

Facing the Pittsburgh Pirates has a way of making a starting

rotation look good.

The St. Louis Cardinals don’t seem to need the help.

Coming off another stellar pitching performance, the Cardinals

send Jake Westbrook and his microscopic ERA to the hill Saturday

night as they continue their weekend series in Pittsburgh.

The only team in the NL Central with a winning record, St. Louis

(10-4) is already building a sizable lead atop the division, and

starting pitching may be the biggest reason. Despite the fact ace

Chris Carpenter is on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, the

Cardinals’ rotation sports a 2.87 ERA, and even that figure may be

deceptively high. St. Louis starters have given up more than two

runs only four times all April, and three of those outings were by

Adam Wainwright – still finding his form after Tommy John surgery

caused him to miss last season.

St. Louis starting pitchers other than Wainwright are 9-0 with a

1.52 ERA.

Those numbers improved in Friday night’s series opener, as

converted reliever Lance Lynn became the staff’s first three-game

winner by limiting the Pirates to one run – on an Alex Presley

inside-the-park homer to lead off the game – and four hits in seven

innings of a 4-1 victory.

For a staff compiling sparkling numbers, the Pittsburgh lineup

may prove an easy foil all weekend. The Pirates’ 27 runs scored are

easily the fewest in the majors. They’ve scored two or fewer in

nine of their 13 games, and Friday’s four-hit effort lowered their

team batting average to .201.

Jose Tabata followed Presley’s first-inning homer with a single

but Pittsburgh never put a runner in scoring position all game.

“You get an inside-the-park homer and drop a single to the next

guy and we ended up with two more (hits) the rest of the night,”

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “It was another strong outing

for (Lynn). You have to take the barrel to him.”

Now, the Pirates (5-8) must face the Cardinals starter with the

lowest ERA of them all. Westbrook (2-0, 0.64 ERA) is bouncing back

strong from an off year in 2011. The right-hander, who dropped 20

pounds in the offseason, has allowed one earned run and seven hits

in 14 innings to win his first two starts.

Westbrook went seven strong innings in Sunday’s 10-3 victory

over the Chicago Cubs, recording 12 ground-ball outs and throwing

first-pitch strikes to nine of the first 11 batters he faced.

“That’s how I’m able to be successful, when I get ahead and

control some counts,” Westbrook said. “Just keeping the hitters on

their toes.”

Westbrook is 0-3 with a 5.46 ERA in eight appearances – four

starts – versus the Pirates, with all three losses coming at PNC

Park.

He’ll be opposed by Kevin Correia (1-0, 1.50), who’s off to a

strong start for the second straight season. The right-hander went

4-2 with a 2.90 ERA in April last year for Pittsburgh, but didn’t

post an ERA below four in any other month.

Correia earned his first win of the season Sunday, allowing one

run and three hits in six innings of a 4-1 victory at San

Francisco. He is 2-3 with a 3.86 ERA in 13 appearances – six starts

– against St. Louis.

Cardinals utilityman Skip Schumaker, activated Friday when Lance

Berkman went on the disabled list with a calf strain, left Friday’s

game after he got shaken up leaping for Presley’s home run in

center field. He said he expects to be available Saturday.