Cardinals-Pirates Preview

Even after Thursday night’s finale of a five-game series, the

St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates will play nine more

times over the season’s final two months.

If it were up to the Pirates, they’d probably prefer to get

those in right now.

Pittsburgh looks to become the first team in nearly a century to

sweep the Cardinals in a five-game series as it heads into August

trying to grab a 3 1/2-game lead atop the NL Central.

The Cardinals (62-44) led the Pirates by 2 1/2 games on July 26,

but six days later it’s Pittsburgh (65-42) that has a 2 1/2-game

cushion and the best record in baseball.

The Pirates held St. Louis to three total runs in winning three

times Monday and Tuesday, but the Cardinals’ offense briefly came

to life Wednesday. After scoring four times on 10 hits in the first

four innings, though, St. Louis was held to three hits the rest of

the way as Pittsburgh rallied to win 5-4.

It enters August 23 games above .500 for the first time since

1972.

“We can win just about every way possible,” manager Clint

Hurdle said.

A Pirates win Thursday would complete the first sweep of the

Cardinals in a series of at least five games since the New York

Giants took six in September 1916. Pittsburgh’s last five-game

sweep came against the San Francisco Giants in September 1996.

The Pirates have the Cardinals on the verge of their first

eight-game skid since September 2007, and they’ve won six straight

in this series for the first time since 1992 – the franchise’s last

winning season. Pittsburgh has outscored St. Louis 36-10 in that

stretch, pounding out 23 extra-base hits to the Cardinals’

seven.

St. Louis hasn’t homered in those six games and has hit just one

in 13 contests since the All-Star break.

The Cardinals have only hit four homers in the 11 games Charlie

Morton (3-2, 3.59 ERA) has started against them, but they’ve been

productive in many other ways. The right-hander is 2-7 with a 6.17

ERA against St. Louis, though he has a 3.18 ERA in five starts in

the series at PNC Park.

Allen Craig is 7 for 12 against Morton, yet the majors’ best

hitter with runners in scoring position (.465) isn’t exactly

thriving at the plate right now. His first-inning single Wednesday

broke an 0-for-23 skid, but he went hitless in his final four

at-bats.

Matt Carpenter got the night off Wednesday in the midst of a

2-for-24 road trip, while All-Star catcher Yadier Molina was placed

on the disabled list with a strained right knee.

“There’s something we’re not doing, and we know we’re not doing

it and fixing it,” manager Mike Matheny said.

Morton has allowed 18 baserunners over 11 2-3 innings in his

last two starts, but has won them both. He gave up four runs and

nine hits over five innings Saturday in a 7-4 victory at Miami.

He’ll be opposed by Joe Kelly (1-3, 3.44), who earned himself

another shot at St. Louis’ very vacant No. 5 starter spot with an

impressive outing Saturday in Atlanta. The right-hander held the

Braves scoreless for 6 1-3 innings in the Cardinals’ 2-0 loss.

“Very, very impressive,” Matheny said. “It was maybe the best

I’ve ever seen him throw. Everything. His aggressiveness, his

slider, breaking ball, changeup; all of them were as good as I’ve

seen.”

Kelly is 0-2 with a 6.43 ERA in five games – one start – against

the Pirates. He gave up four runs and three hits – including a

two-run homer to Russell Martin – while getting just one out in

relief during a 5-3 loss April 27.

Pittsburgh left fielder Starling Marte has hit safely in all 11

career games against St. Louis, posting a .444 on-base

percentage.