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Cardinals, Pirates heating up

The Chicago Cubs are going to win the National League Central. That sentence was as true in April as it is now, with Chicago holding a ridiculous 13-game lead in the division.

If the Cubs were to go .500 the rest of the way, the second-place St. Louis Cardinals would almost have to run the table. In other words, start printing up the banner.

However, St. Louis and the Pittsburgh Pirates have plenty to play for. After muddling through a good portion of the season, both are finally rolling. The Cardinals and Pirates are both on four-game winning streaks, with St. Louis moving into the second wild card spot behind the San Francisco Giants. Pittsburgh has hopped over the Miami Marlins by a game and a half, and only trails St. Louis by a single game for a postseason berth.

At this point, the Giants are 2.5 games up on the Cardinals and 3.5 games clear of the Pirates. Both deficits are easily attainable for the pursuers, especially when you consider the relative freefall San Francisco has found itself in since the Al-Star break. The Giants have the horses to get back on track with Madison Bumgarner, Matt Moore, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija in the rotation, but the offense could hold them back enough to open the door.

In the acse of the Cardinals, they have plenty of pitching to match San Francisco should they get healthy. St. Louis has a quality ace in Adam Wainwright to go with Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez following suit. Martinez and Wacha are two of the best pitchers in the game under the age of 26, providing St. Louis with a bright future once the 34-year-old Wainwright decides he has had enough.

On the flip side, the Pirates are not flush with arms. Gerrit Cole is an excellent hurler, but the rest of the rotation leaves all kinds of things to be desired. However, Pittsburgh has a very good offense led by one of the best outfields in the league. The Pirates are trotting out Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco and Andrew McCutchen, who after a brutal first half has finally started to come around.

With less than two months remaining, the Pirates and Cardinals are in a mad dash to get into the Wild Card game. If one had to bet, St. Louis would be the choice because of the consistently good pitching. Still, it can’t be discounted that the Pirates know how to get into the postseason, being the wild card host in each of the past two seasons.

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