Preview: Cards send Kelly to mound hoping to buck Bucs
A month ago, Joe Kelly helped the St. Louis Cardinals avoid being swept in a five-game series at Pittsburgh.
Facing a more potent Pirates lineup with newly acquired slugger Justin Morneau on Sunday, Kelly looks to continue his recent success as a starter and again help the Cardinals avoid being swept in Pittsburgh for the first time in almost five years.
Pittsburgh (79-56) outscored St. Louis 22-7 to win four straight before Kelly (6-3, 2.91 ERA) allowed three hits in six innings of the 13-0 victory Aug. 1 to help the visitors avoid the five-game sweep.
The Pirates have outscored the Cardinals (78-57) 12-1 through two this weekend to move one game ahead in the NL Central race. A.J. Burnett threw seven strong innings and Neil Walker had three hits as Pittsburgh moved within three victories of its first winning season since 1992 with Saturday’s 7-1 victory.
“It’s a great feat,” Burnett said. “It’s been a long time, but our goals have been higher than that.”
Pittsburgh, however, must get by Kelly in order to sweep its first home series from the Cardinals since Sept. 12-14, 2008.
Kelly is 6-0 with a 2.24 ERA in nine starts since joining the rotation July 6, and he’s allowed three runs on two homers over 18 innings while winning three straight outings overall. The right-hander gave up a solo shot in the fifth inning and lasted one more frame during Tuesday’s 6-1 victory over Cincinnati.
“He just keeps making good starts for us,” manager Mike Matheny said.
Kelly, though, faces a Pittsburgh lineup with newcomer Marlon Byrd and Morneau, who was acquired from Minnesota on Saturday in exchange for outfielder Alex Presley.
Morneau, who played only for Minnesota since breaking in with the Twins in 2003, hit .259 with 17 homers and 74 RBIs in 127 games this season. He arrived at PNC Park in the middle of Saturday’s game, but did not play.
“Everybody knows we got better with the addition of Justin,” catcher Russell Martin said. “He’s an ex-MVP. He knows what he’s doing out there. He’s going to give you a productive at-bat and he lengthens the middle of the order.”
Byrd, acquired along with John Buck from the New York Mets on Tuesday, is 5 for 16 with four RBIs for his new team.
Allen Craig had two of the six hits Saturday for the Cardinals, who have totaled one run and 15 hits during a three-game slide that followed a stretch of nine wins in 11 contests.
“I like what our offense has done over the majority of the season,” Matheny said. “You don’t want to take a couple of games and start making conclusions. We’re just going to keep going about it.”
Catcher Yadier Molina ranks among the major league leaders with .328 average, but is 2 for 15 in his last four games overall and 0 for 15 in his last five at Pittsburgh.
Kris Johnson is slated to make his first career start for the Pirates in the finale. In his major league debut out of the bullpen, the left-hander allowed two runs and struck out five while pitching the 11th through the 16th innings of a 4-2 loss to Arizona on Aug. 18.