Cardinals-Pirates Preview

The St. Louis Cardinals’ margin for error is slim, but their

impressive past three weeks have put them where they’re generally

accustomed to being as the season winds down – in contention for a

playoff spot.

The Pittsburgh Pirates, meanwhile, are on the cusp of completing

their own September ritual.

With their sights on the NL Central and wild-card races, the

Cardinals try to win for a seventh time in eight games and send the

Pirates to their major league-record 19th consecutive losing season

Wednesday afternoon at PNC Park.

St. Louis (80-68) trailed Milwaukee by 10 games in the Central

and Atlanta by 10 1/2 in the wild-card standings on Aug. 25, but it

hasn’t looked like an out-of-contention team the last few

weeks.

The Cardinals, who have made the postseason seven times since

2000, have gone 13-5 since then to put some heat on the Brewers and

Braves. After losing Monday’s opener 6-5, St. Louis bounced back

Tuesday, overcoming three Albert Pujols errors in a 6-4 win.

It remained 6 1/2 behind Milwaukee and 4 1/2 behind Atlanta,

though, as both clubs also won.

“We still got a huge hole to climb out of, but at least we’re

playing some meaningful baseball in September,” said Nick Punto,

who drove in the go-ahead run with a double in the ninth.

As the Cardinals fight to get back into contention, the Pirates’

brief foray into first place in late July has given way to the same

seemingly inevitable ending they’ve experienced since 1992 – a

losing season.

Pittsburgh (67-81) set a major North American professional

sports record with its 18th straight sub-.500 finish in 2010, and

Tuesday set it up to extend that run of misery. Since sharing the

Central lead with St. Louis on July 26, the Pirates’ 14-34 record

is the NL’s worst.

“We haven’t done enough things in a number of these games that

have put us in position to have 81 losses. That’s where we are

right now,” manager Clint Hurdle said.

Pittsburgh tries to avoid loss No. 82 for at least one day

against Edwin Jackson (11-9, 3.75 ERA), who’s been the Cardinals’

most consistent starter since arriving from the White Sox in late

July.

His 3.39 ERA in that span is the rotation’s best, and that

number shrinks to 2.45 minus one woeful start against the Brewers

in his second outing with St. Louis. Jackson is 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA

over his last four starts, which included holding the Braves to two

runs over six innings Friday in a critical, 4-3 win in 10

innings.

Jackson is 3-0 with a 3.24 ERA in four career starts against the

Pirates. He gave up four runs – three unearned – over six innings

Aug. 25 in an 8-4 win over Pittsburgh at Busch Stadium.

The Pirates counter with Charlie Morton (9-9, 3.81), who’s been

given three additional days of rest after allowing four runs and

seven hits over 4 1-3 innings in a 6-3 loss to the Cubs on Sept.

4.

Morton is 0-3 with a 7.71 ERA over his last three starts, and at

153 2-3 innings he’s thrown 29 more than he had in any previous

season in professional baseball.

“I feel fine when I go out there,” Morton told the Pirates’

official website. “I’m not chalking it up to fatigue.”

Morton is 2-4 with a 6.69 ERA in eight career starts versus St.

Louis, with Skip Schumaker (10 for 20) and Lance Berkman (7 for 12,

two homers) among those doing the damage.

He may not have to worry about Matt Holliday, however, after the

five-time All-Star left Tuesday’s win with a hand injury. He’ll be

examined Wednesday.