If the Cardinals (67-63) are going to make an improbable charge for the playoffs, then they ought to begin their run against the fourth-place Pittsburgh Pirates (61-68) this weekend at Busch Stadium. The Thursday through Sunday set is the fourth series between the two clubs and the last one that is taking place in St. Louis. The season series will conclude at Pittsburgh beginning on September 12.
Looking at the Cardinals:
The last series for the Cardinals was perhaps the worst so far this season as the Los Angeles Dodgers won a last opportunity 2-1 game on Monday and then finished off the Redbirds over the last two days by outscoring them 22-6. This season, the Cardinals have gone 52-44 against sub-.500 ball clubs, yet have gone just 14-15 in those games since the All-Star break.
Even though the Brewers actually lost three times over the past week, the Cardinals have gone 1-5 during that stretch to put themselves 10 games behind with little time left in the season. The Brewers, who enter a series at home against the Chicago Cubs, have a magic number of 22.
Tied for first place in the NL Central Division with the Pirates a month ago on July 25, the Cardinals have gone 14-16 while the Brewers put themselves 24 games above .500 by going 24-5.
Looking at the Pirates:
Though they have won just three of seven since dropping the Cardinals just over a week ago, the Pirates have to be playing with some momentum after taking two from the sizzling Brewers. Looking for their first .500 season since 1992, the Pirates certainly have different goals than the Cardinals. Though some of those goals may differ, the Bucs want to win ballgames and finish this season on a strong note just like the Redbirds.
The Pirates, once the sweetheart of Major League Baseball this season, have had a tough month going 7-16. The main problem has been their pitching, which have given up an average of 5.7 runs per game and allowed 7 or more runs in ten of 23 games this month.
Pitching probables for the series:
Thursday: RHP Edwin Jackson (9-9, 4.03) vs. RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 3.42)
– Edwin Jackson really made one bad pitch, a home run to Aramis Ramirez, in the 3-0 loss last Saturday at Wrigley Field. Since becoming part of the Cardinals’ rotation, Jackson has been unable to post consecutive decisions over 5 starts. In those outings, the Redbirds have gone 2-3.
– Charlie Morton has had a very good month allowing just 3 earned runs in 28.1 innings pitched. He has lowered his ERA from 3.80 to 3.42 over his last four outings. Against the Cardinals on July 24, Morton gave up 3 runs on 6 hits and 5 walks in 5.1 innings in the Pirates’ 10-inning 4-3 victory.
Friday: RHP Jake Westbrook (10-7, 4.70) vs. RHP James McDonald (8-6, 4.21)
– Jake Westbrook has had the most successful outing by a Cardinals’ starter so far this week. Westbrook gave up just 2 runs on 7 hits and 3 walks over 7.0 innings against the Cubs last Sunday. By earning his tenth win, Westbrook now has ten or more wins in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2005-06.
– James McDonald will be looking for his second win over the Cardinals in just short of two weeks time. He gave up 2 runs on 6 hits and 2 walk over 5.2 innings in the Pirates’ 6-2 win on August 15. McDonald, 26, has added a slider to his arsenal and it has worked well so far for him. He is making his third start against the Redbirds this season.
Saturday: RHP Chris Carpenter (8-8, 3.57) vs. RHP Brad Lincoln (0-0, 4.58)
– Chris Carpenter was having one of his classic outings on Monday against the Dodgers until being lifted during the ninth inning of the stomach-churning 2-1 defeat. Carpenter was charged a run on 5 hits, a walk, and a costly hit batter. Perhaps his game to win or lose, yet the decision by the manager was made and that is how Carpenter would like to keep the matter.
– Brad Lincoln, the fourth overall pick in the 2006 amateur draft, is now part of the Bucs’ starting rotation according to manager Clint Hurdle . Lincoln, 26, gave up just 2 earned runs on 3 hits and a walk over 6.0 innings against the Brewers on Monday. Against the Cardinals in the 7-2 loss on August 17, Lincoln gave up Allen Craig’s second home run on the night.
Sunday: RHP Kyle Lohse (11-8, 3.73) vs. RHP Jeff Karstens (9-7, 3.09)
– Kyle Lohse had a horrendous 3.0 inning start last Tuesday after having a very good 7.0 inning outing against the Pirates on August 17. Last Tuesday’s mystifying 13-2 loss to the Dodgers was Lohse’s first since July 19. With a 3.32 ERA at the All-Star break, Lohse has seen that mark go up half a run over his last 7 starts.
– Jeff Karstens picked up in seventh loss on Monday at Milwaukee despite only allowing 2 runs on 6 hits and a walk in 7.0 innings. Before that, the Pirates’ hitters bailed out Karstens from what should have been his seventh loss on August 16 when the Cardinals lost 5-4 in 11 innings.
Players to watch:
– Albert Pujols has 32 games to raise his batting average up to .300 and obtain 100 RBI’s to continue his historical run. No other baseball legend has ever started their career by posting at least a .300 average, 30 home runs, and 100 RBI’s in every season. Pujols needs 23 RBI’s and has already raised his batting average to .289 after being at .277 on August 10. Since that point, Pujols has reached base safely in each game and has collected 19 hits over 14 games.
– Jose Tabata has been swinging the bat very well since returning to the Pirates lineup on August 16. Since then, Tabata has a hit in each game and has gone 13-34 overall in 8 games. Now under a 6-year, $15 million deal with the Pirates until 2016, Tabata missed 49 games this season due to a left quad strain.
The Cardinals were 65-56 and just 5.0 games behind the Brewers the last time these two clubs met at PNC Park. After dropping the first two games, especially a heart-breaking 11-inning 5-4 loss on August 16, the Redbirds were able to salvage the series with a 7-2 win on August 17 to stay 7.0 games behind in the standings.
April 4-6 was actually the last time the Pirates came to Busch Stadium. Only 3 games into the 2011 season, the Bucs took two of three from the Cardinals even though they scored a total of 9 runs.
Tune into KMOX 1120 AM for the Charter Communications Pregame Show on Thursday at 6:20pm. The broadcast on Friday is also 6:20pm, Saturday at 2:15pm, and Sunday at 12:20pm.
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