Who would have thunk the biggest series of the year so far would be the Cardinals' weekend series against the Pirates?
The Birds, tied for first place with the Brewers at the All-Star Break, now stand in third place in the National League Central a game behind Milwaukee and Pittsburgh. While the race is neck and neck, the importance is underlined by the fact that the Cardinals play division foes quite a bit in the upcoming weeks. Bottom line: It's make or break time.
A big weekend could put the Redbirds back in first place... A bad one could allow the fourth place Reds to pull even and put the Cardinals in a world of trouble.
The only match-up between the Cardinals and Pittsburgh so far this season came in the first week of the season. The Pirates took two out of three and there was much hand wringing before the Birds took to the road and righted their ship.
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Road warriors for much of the season, the Birds' recent struggles have sagged to 26-26 away from Busch Stadium. The Pirates are 25-23 in Pittsburgh and slightly better on the road at 26-22.
The Pirates aren't flashy. They pitch well and play good fundamental baseball that has made them the most improved team in the National League this season. If there is anything that is on the side of the Redbirds it's that many of their players view PNC Park as their home away from home.
Albert Pujols is a .387 hitter at PNC with 26 homers in 80 games. Matt Holliday is a .362 hitter there with seven homers in 33 games and Lance Berkman is a .296 hitter with 13 homers in 71 games.
The Pirates only starter to hit as high as .280 is Andrew McCutchen, who has 14 homers and 59 RBIs. He's also the only Buc in double figures in homers and he leads the club with 15 stolen bases. First baseman Neil Walker (.275, 9HR) leads Pittsburgh with 63 RBI.
The red-hot Chris Carpenter (5-7, 3.69) takes the hill for the Birds against Paul Maholm (6-9,. 3.06) in the opener. Carpenter has won his last four decisions in a row, going deep into starts on a more consistent basis than any other St. Louis Starter. Carpenter allowed eight hits and two runs in six innings against the Pirates in April to take a loss. But over his career he's 11-2 vs. Pittsburgh with a 2.09 ERA. Maholm is 4-4 with a 3.33 ERA in his career against St. Louis.
Jaime Garcia (9-4, 3.11) will pitch the second game against Kevin Correia (11-7, 4.04). Garcia is 3-3 with a 5.16 ERA on the road this season. He's 0-1 against Pittsburgh in his career with an 0.96 ERA after a start and a pair of relief appearances. Correia is 2-2 with a 2.79 ERA against St. Louis in his career. He's won four of his last five decisions despite the fact that his ERA has risen from 3.60 to 4.04 over that span.
Kyle Lohse, (8-7, 3.45) who currently has a split on the index finger of his pitching hand after visiting a doctor following his last start, is still pencilled in to start the finale against Pittsburgh starter Charlie Morton 8-5, 3.62). Lohse hasn't pitched terribly but he's lost five of his last six decisions. He seemed just a bubble off in his last start against the Mets. He was tagged for 10 hits in five innings. But he seemed to be able to reach down and get an out to get out of an inning when he needed to. Morton is 2-3 with a 6.43 ERA in his career against the Cardinals.