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Pirates, Cardinals Meet Again

The Pirates and Cardinals continue their quests for the NL crown with a head-to-head series this week.

The Pirates and Cardinals continue their quest for the NL crown with a head-to-head series this week.

This time two weeks ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals began a lengthy five-game set that changed the outlook of the NL Central. On Tuesday, the two clubs begin another series that could do likewise.

20130811_NL_CentralThe Pirates entered that previous series 1 ½ games back of the Cardinals, but four straight wins saw the Buccos leapfrog their opponents to take control of the division top spot. Only a 13-0 win in the finale kept the Cardinals from being swept and falling further off the pace.

Pittsburgh followed up its success over St. Louis with series wins at home over the Colorado Rockies and Miami Marlins, but a stretch of nine wins in 11 games came undone this past weekend.

Beginning a stint of 13 road games from the next 16, the Pirates found themselves outplayed by the same Colorado side they had beaten just a week before. Friday night saw Clint Hurdle’s side on the wrong end of a 10-1 drubbing, before the club fell 6-4 on Saturday. Sunday’s series closer wasn’t much better either. The Bucs squandered a 2-0 advantage, giving up three runs and succumbing to a sweep.

“They pitched better than us, they hit better than us, they fielded better than us. You move on,” Hurdle told the media after the game. Moving on to St. Louis in these circumstances may be less than ideal though.

20130811_NL_WildcardThe Cardinals rebounded from that series loss to Pittsburgh by taking two of three from divisional rivals, the Cincinnati Reds. Things haven’t been quite so good since. The Redbirds dropped three of four at home to the surging Los Angeles Dodgers before coming up short in the opening two games of this weekend’s series against the Chicago Cubs.

On Sunday, Mike Matheny’s side jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning and then found ways to circumnavigate some choppy waters. The Cubs managed to tie the game 4-4 in the sixth before the Cardinals added one run in the sixth, one in the seventh and two in the eighth to run out 8-4 victors. Closer Edward Mujica (1-0, 1.81 ERA, 31 SV) was served his first save attempt since July 25. The right-hander, who has blown just one save all year, promptly put the game away.

The Cardinals, who have gone 4-6 since last meeting Pittsburgh, will now look to gain ground on the NL Central-leading Pirates. At three games back, the club cannot overtake the Pirates, but a three-game sweep would really alter the divisional landscape. Of course, a three-game sweep will be tough to come by.

Pitching Probables

Tuesday’s series opener will see Charlie Morton (4-3, 3.88 ERA) pitch for the Pirates, while Adam Wainwright (13-7, 2.66 ERA) will take the mound for St. Louis. Morton has won three of his last four decisions, although he took a loss against the Cardinals on August 1. Wainwright has dropped his last two decisions and failed to record a decision in his only appearance against the Pirates this season (July 31).

Wednesday will see a pitching matchup worth watching. Francisco Liriano (12-5, 2.83 ERA) will go for the Pirates. He’s been the ace of the staff this year, and has won seven of his last nine decisions, including a July 29 win over the Cards. The Cardinals’ Shelby Miller (11-7, 2.89 ERA) meanwhile has won three of his last four, and has been vital to St. Louis’ success this season. However, the right-hander lost twice to the Bucs back in April.

Thursday afternoon’s matchup sees a couple of pitchers experiencing very different fortunes. Pittsburgh’s A.J. Burnett (5-8, 2.95 ERA) is just 1-2 in seven starts since returning from the disabled list after suffering a right calf strain in early June. He has just one win since June 8, something he’ll hope to rectify in the series finale. The right-hander will be up against Lance Lynn (13-6, 3.79 ERA), another big part of the Cardinals success this season. Lynn is 2-0 in three starts against Pittsburgh this season.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has revealed that Gerrit Cole (5-5, 3.95 ERA), who was due to start Wednesday’s game, has been pushed back in the rotation as the Pirates organization looks to give the rookie some rest. He’ll start Friday night’s game instead.

Betting Considerations

Pittsburgh owns a 7-3 advantage over St. Louis in the season head-to-head, something bettors shouldn’t take lightly. Only three of the previous 10 have been played at Busch Stadium though, so the Cardinals (67-50, 34-22 home) will take some confidence into the series. That being said, the Pirates (70-47, 29-27 road) did take two of those three.

Francisco Liriano will go to work on Wednesday.

Francisco Liriano will go to work on Wednesday.

The Cardinals appear to have the pitching advantage in the opening and closing games of the series, while the middle game looks like it’s well and truly be up for grabs. It’s hard to imagine the Pirates doing the sort of damage they did two weeks ago.

Odds and trends for the series opener will be available here as soon as they’re available.

Bettors thinking of betting the over/under should take the following into consideration. St. Louis (59-55-3) has favored the over this season, while Pittsburgh (50-64-3) has favored the under. The season head-to-head has seen the total go over seven times and under three times.

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At the conclusion of this series, Pittsburgh will host the Arizona Diamondbacks for three games over the weekend, while St. Louis will visit Wrigley Park for a three-game set against the Chicago Cubs.

St. Louis will visit PNC Park for three games between August 30 and September 1. Pittsburgh will return to Busch Stadium on September 6 for the final three meetings (postseason excluded) between the sides this season.

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