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Pittsburgh will be first real test for red hot Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals have the best record in baseball after taking care of business by winning five of seven games against two of the National League’s weaker teams.

Now the 15-6 Redbirds will get a tougher test by going up against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the team that has the best chance to dethrone St. Louis as reigning kings of the NL Central.

While the Cardinals have the best earned run average in baseball, the Pirates, 12-10, are right behind them with the second-best numbers.

The difference in the game will likely be decided by the offense.

The Cardinals rank 16th in MLB in runs scored while the Bucs are 20th. But St. Louis has been hot lately, especially after manager Mike Matheny shook up the lineup a few games ago, moving Matt Carpenter from first to second in the order and Jason Heyward from second to sixth.

They’re racking up doubles in bunches. They’re tied for second in baseball with 48 two-base hits.

Matt Holliday (.379) and Carpenter (.372) remain red hot at the plate with Matt Adams (.304) and Kolten Wong (.297) joining the fun. If St. Louis could get slow starter Heyward (.217) hot, they’d really have something going at the plate.

Give Matheny credit for keeping Mark Reynolds and Peter Bourjos involved and productive and keeping the bullpeners sharp.

The only Pirates player hitting over .300 is utiluty player Sean Rodriguez. Andrew McCutchen is hitting .194, Josh Harrison is batting .213 and Starling Marte is hitting .247.

The Cardinals are fortunate to miss Pittsburgh’s best starter, Garrit Cole, in the three-game set. He’s 4-0 with a 1.76 ERA. They’ll kick off the series against AJ Burnett who is 0-1 despite putting up a 1.80 ERA.

The Cardinals haven’t failed to win a series this season that went at least three games. It’s never too early to make a statement. So, hopefully, they can show the Pirates who rules the roost while staying hot.