Cheap Seats

Series Preview: Cardinals vs. Pirates

The Cardinals dropped consecutive series to the Cubs and Mets on the Road. Now they have a chance to feast on the chicken soup for ailing teams: A three-game home series against the Pirates.

They had better not blow it.

Not that we're to the "must win" part of the season yet. But all the games count the same at the end of the year. So, when you're playing the last place team and you have your best pitchers lined up and ready to go you have to make hay while the sun shines.

Simply put, the Pirates are the worst team in the National League at 36-65, a .356 winning percentage. They're 13-39 away from PNC Park, but they've played some of their best baseball in July with a 12-13 record.

The Pirates offense is led by Andrew McCutchen who is hitting .293 with eight homers and 21 stolen bases in 28 tries and Garrett Jones who is hitting .277 with 14 homers and 61 RBIs. The Cardinals big bats continue to struggle mightily. Albert Pujols is disturbingly hitting below .300 as the calendar readies for a turn of the page to August. He's in the midst of a 4-for-30 streak with a .295 mark with 23 homers and 71 batted in. Matt Holliday's average has sunk to .302 with eight hits in his last 32 at bats. He had a soft 12-game hitting streak snapped Thursday against the Mets. During the streak he had only one hit in either four or five at bats in six of the last eight games.

Colby Rasmus has shown some signs of shaking out of a terrible slump. He's 3-for-6 in his last two games after getting one hit in his previous 22 at bats with nine strikeouts. But Jon Jay is going to continue to command playing time in the outfield because of his red hot bat. Jay is hitting .383 for the season. He was 9-for-25 on the Birds' recently completed road trip while the more established bats slumbered.

Pitching match-ups:

The Cardinals send ace Chris Carpenter (11-3, 3.09) to the mound in the series opener against Pirates hurler Jeff Karstens (2-6, 4.72). Carp is 2-0 with a 1.96 ERA in his last three starts and is 11-1 with a 2.29 ERA in his career against the Pirates. Karstens is 0-3 with a 4.76 ERA in his last three starts and is 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA in his career against the Redbirds.

Jeff Suppan (0-4, 4.75 for the Cardinals) will pitch the middle game. The Pirates have not yet announced who will counter. Suppan is 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA in his last three starts. In his career, Suppan is 13-3 with a 4.64 ERA against the Pirates.

The Cardinals will send Adam Wainwright (14-6, 2.23) to the mound on Sunday against Bucs starter Zach Duke (5-9, 5.09). Wainwright had been brilliant in his previous five starts, pushing his season ERA below the 2.00. But he had the worst game of his season in his last start, giving up six earned runs in six innings Tuesday against the Mets. Wainwright seems to have started to nibble, perhaps not trusting his defense and trying for more strikeouts. The result has been high pitch counts in his last couple of starts that have sent him to the showers early and forced the Birds to rely on the bullpen. Wainwright is undefeated at Busch Stadium this season with a 10-0 mark.

After the Pirates, the Cardinals face the Astros. Yeah, the same Astros that dealt their playoff hopes a blow by refusing to send starter Roy Oswalt to St. Louis despite the pitcher's desire to play here. Hopefully, the Birds will rough up the Pirates and then will be motivated to get some payback from Houston.