Cardinals keep their distance as they visit Pirates (Jul 16, 2017)

BY AP • July 16, 2017

PITTSBURGH -- Any team can win on any given Sunday. Or Monday, Tuesday or any other day of the week.

While the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates wouldn't dare predict the outcome Sunday when the teams play in the finale of their weekend series at PNC Park, there is one certainty.

St. Louis (44-46) won't be overtaken for third place in the National League Central by Pittsburgh (43-48).

The Cardinals ensured that by winning 4-0 Saturday to split the first two games of the series.

Milwaukee has a 6 1/2-game lead over St. Louis and an eight-game edge on Pittsburgh. The Cubs are in second, a game ahead of the Cardinals.

If the Pirates are discouraged that they aren't closer to contending after winning six of their past eight games, they aren't showing it.

"We're playing well," Pittsburgh shortstop Jordy Mercer said after the shutout loss. "This is going to happen. This is baseball. That's why you play 162 games. It's a lot. We still feel great."

St. Louis will be trying to win their fourth out of five series -- the other one was a split.

Carlos Martinez (6-8, 3.40 ERA) is scheduled to make his team-leading 19th start for St. Louis.

Martinez is 4-5 with a 3.59 ERA in nine career starts (18 appearances) against the Pirates, but has not faced them this season.

He has four games with at least 10 strikeouts this season. If he gets six Sunday against Pittsburgh, he will reach 600 for his career.

Martinez, though, hasn't been at his best lately despite ranking among the National Leagues leaders in ERA, strikeouts (128), innings (116 2/3), WHIP (1.16) and opponent batting average (.213). He has lost his past three decisions and has given up six homers in his past four games.

Manager Mike Matheny dismissed the idea that, given Martinez's innings, he could be tiring.

"I don't know about weary, but I think frustrated," Matheny told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I think he feels good, and there are times you can see the ball jumping."

His best outing recently was an All-Star Game appearance in which he struck out four in two scoreless innings.

The far side of the All-Star Game, of course, would be an ideal time for Martinez get back on track. That's exactly what he plans to do.

"The second half ... I'm going to come with it," Martinez told the Post-Dispatch, through a translator.

Right-hander Trevor Williams (3-4, 4.80 ERA), Pittsburgh's scheduled starter, seems to be taking to his starting role after beginning the season in the bullpen. In his first start May 8, he gave up eight runs in three innings. Since then, he is 2-2 with a 4.03 ERA in 11 starts.

It hasn't all been smooth. In his most recent start, he lasted only 3 2/3 innings and gave up three runs in a 6-1 loss July 7 against the Cubs in Chicago -- his shortest outing since that first start May 8.

Williams indicated the outing against the Cubs, when he threw 80 pitches, might have been an anomaly.

"The first few innings were weird for both sides," Williams told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "Anything that can happen on a baseball field happened. We were waiting for the streaker to run onto the field and make it all full circle.

"I felt like every hitter, something weird was happening. It taxed me, and it taxed my pitch count. It got me out of the game in the fourth inning."

Williams will be making his first career start against St. Louis and will face the Cardinals for the first time this season. He is 1-0 with a 6.23 ERA in three relief appearances, all in 2016.

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