Cardinals-Pirates Preview

There are some legitimate questions about the final three slots

in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ rotation as September nears, but there’s

little doubt about the effectiveness of Clint Hurdle’s top two

starters.

The offense also appears to be in better shape.

A night after Francisco Liriano gave the Pirates a share of the

NL Central’s top spot, A.J. Burnett looks to continue his home

dominance of the St. Louis Cardinals and lift his club to the

outright lead Saturday night.

Pittsburgh (78-56) traded for longtime Minnesota first baseman

Justin Morneau on Saturday, hoping the four-time All Star can give

the Pirates’ middling offense a needed jolt heading into the final

month of the season. The Twins obtained outfielder Alex Presley and

either a player to be named or cash after Pittsburgh made its

second major move in five days. Pittsburgh sent a pair of minor

leaguers to the New York Mets on Tuesday in exchange for outfielder

Marlon Byrd and catcher John Buck.

“We’ve got more depth, we’ve got more options than we had four

days ago,” Hurdle said. “We’re a better team. We’re a stronger

team.”

The 32-year-old Morneau hit .259 with 17 homers and 74 RBIs this

season for Minnesota and is finishing off a red-hot month in which

he smacked nine home runs.

“I think he’s found some ways to spark some things offensively

in the second half,” Hurdle said.

Hurdle is hopeful Morneau would make it to the clubhouse in time

for Saturday night’s game.

Charlie Morton’s rotation spot was in jeopardy as recently as

Aug. 1, Gerrit Cole is being given extra rest as his innings mount

and Jeff Locke has pitched so poorly after his All-Star first half

that he’s been sent to Double-A while his next start is

skipped.

But there’s no uncertainty at the top of the Pirates’ rotation.

Liriano allowed two hits over eight innings Friday in beating the

Cardinals (78-56) for the third time in the past 33 days as

Pittsburgh pulled even atop the NL Central with a 5-0 win.

Garrett Jones broke out of a 1-for-29 slump by going 3 for 4

with a homer and four RBIs.

“Big game, big series,” Jones said. “I made some adjustments and

took it into the game and I felt good. I felt aggressive and strong

and it was nice to be able to contribute to the win.”

Burnett (6-9, 3.18 ERA) takes the ball next, and though he can’t

match Liriano’s 1.21 ERA at PNC Park, he hasn’t been far behind.

The right-hander has posted a 2.01 ERA in his last nine home

starts, a stretch in which he’s held the Cardinals to one run and

four hits over 14 innings while striking out 17.

Burnett is 2-1 with a 1.35 ERA in four home outings against St.

Louis since joining the Pirates.

Hurdle certainly seems to like the 1-2 punch at the top of his

rotation.

“I just like the way we’re going about our business, throwing

our best two guys back to back,” Hurdle told the team’s official

website. “… When they are on their game, they can be a

force.”

This will be Burnett’s first home appearance since Aug. 4 after

going 1-2 with a 5.55 ERA in his four straight road starts,

including a 6-5, 12-inning loss at Busch Stadium on Aug. 15. He

pitched four clean innings and was staked to a 4-0 lead before

being charged with five runs and failing to survive the fifth.

His mound opponent Saturday will be the same as it was earlier

this month. Lance Lynn (13-8, 4.02) gave up four fifth-inning runs

that day and wound up lasting 5 1-3, the beginning of a rocky

three-start stretch in which the right-hander has posted a 5.89

ERA.

Three of the four runs Lynn allowed over his seven innings in

Sunday’s 5-2 loss to Atlanta came in the first two innings.

“Hopefully for me, this was a building (block) going down the

stretch,” Lynn said. “I’ve got some starts coming up where I’ve got

to be really good.

“And I plan on being really good.”

Lynn hasn’t been good often on the road, going 2-4 with a 6.06

ERA over his last eight starts outside of St. Louis. He’s 2-0 with

a 3.00 ERA in three starts at PNC Park, however.

Lynn has certainly had the number of two of the Pirates’ best

hitters. Andrew McCutchen is 4 for 23 with eight strikeouts versus

Lynn, while Neil Walker is 3 for 17.

Allen Craig and David Freese are each 1 for 9 against Burnett,

but Matt Carpenter is 8 for 18 with three extra-base hits.

Carpenter, who along with McCutchen is tied for the major league

lead with 51 multi-hit games, is 5 for 42 (.119) in his career in

Pittsburgh.