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Pirates, Cardinals Open 5-Game Series

Andrew McCutcheon and the Pittsburgh Pirates will look to overtake the St. Louis Cardinals this week.

Andrew McCutcheon and the Pittsburgh Pirates will look to overtake the St. Louis Cardinals this week.

Starting Monday, the Pittsburgh Pirates will host the St. Louis Cardinals in a five-game series that could have huge implications on the NL Central standings.

20130728_NL_CentralFollowing this weekend’s action, the Cardinals (62-40, 30-23 road) are currently 1 1/2 games ahead of the Pirates (61-42, 32-18 home) at the top of the division standings, with both amongst the top three in Major League Baseball.

The sides will meet Monday through Thursday, with Tuesday hosting a traditional doubleheader to make up for an April 16 rainout.

Both clubs will be looking to bounce back from a troublesome weekend. The Cardinals were swept by the Atlanta Braves in a three-game set while the Pirates managed to take just one game from three against the Miami Marlins.

In fact, the NL Central as a whole had a torrid weekend. The division picked up just six wins in 16 games, with three wins coming from the Chicago Cubs’ surprising sweep of the defending champion San Francisco Giants. A division that has staked a claim as one of the best this season is all of a sudden looking vulnerable.

Monday night’s game offers Pittsburgh the opportunity to close the gap at the top of the division to one-half game.

So far this season, the Pirates lead the head-to-head over St. Louis 3-2, although the clubs split a pair of games at PNC Park back in April.

Pittsburgh will send Francisco Liriano (10-4, 2.23 ERA) to the mound. The left-hander leads the Pirates’ staff in wins, and has taken the ‘W’ in seven of his last nine starts. In his last start, Liriano struck out eight as he pitched 7 2/3 innings of shutout ball against the Washington Nationals. He yielded just two hits in that game, a 4-2 Pirates’ win.

The 29-year-old, who joined Pittsburgh this season, has just one career start against the Cardinals. He allowed two runs on four hits in a 6-2 win for the Minnesota Twins back on June 28, 2009.

Jake Westbrook has struggled against the Pirates.

Jake Westbrook has struggled against the Pirates.

Liriano will be up against Jake Westbrook (7-4, 2.95 ERA). Westbrook has allowed just 29 earned runs in 14 starts, including just three homers. The 35-year-old has had some problems with control though, having walked 33 compared to 32 strikeouts.

The right-hander has had success of late though, winning five off his last seven starts, including Wednesday’s win over the Philadelphia Phillies, a game in which he gave up three runs on nine hits. Plenty of run support saw the Cardinals run out 11-3 winners in that game.

Westbrook failed to record a decision on April 27, his only game against the Pirates this season. However, he pitched six shutout innings in that encounter, before the bullpen turned the game over to give the Pirates a 5-3 win.

It’s unlikely Westbrook will be relishing another showdown with the Bucs. Since being traded to the Cardinals midway through the 2010 season, he has gone 1-7 in nine starts against the Red Birds. That’s alarming news for anybody thinking of backing Mike Matheny’s club on Monday night.

Still, writing the Cardinals off is risky business; the club has the best road record in all of the majors.

The Pirates, who are banged up at the moment, placed outfielder Travis Snider (toe) on the 15-day disabled list on Sunday, where he joins pitchers Wandy Rodriguez (forearm) and Jason Grilli (arm). The latest reports suggest Grilli, who has converted 30 save attempts this season, will be out for the rest of the year.

The Pirates got some good news Sunday as catcher Russell Martin (knee), injured in a play at the plate on Friday, returned to the lineup.

20130728_NL_WildcardSt. Louis continues to move forward without starting pitchers Chris Carpenter (hand), Jaime Garcia (shoulder) and John Gast (shoulder). Garcia and Gast are done for the year, while Carpenter, who is on the 60-day DL, has an uncertain future. The Cardinals might consider adding some pitching before the end of Wednesday’s non-waiver trade deadline, but GM John Mozeliak believes it unlikely.

After missing nine games with a hamstring injury, outfielder Matt Holliday returned to the St. Louis lineup on Saturday, going 1 for 7 in two games against the Braves.

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Pirates odds for 7/29/13 are available now.

With home field advantage, the Pirates (-140) opened as the moneyline favorite over the Cardinals (+130). Those numbers have increased in favor the Bucs as both Bovada and Bookmaker had the Pirates as a -155 favorite at time of publication.

Westbrook’s struggles on the mound against the Pirates suggest that the home team is the smart bet on Monday night.

The over/under opened at 7.

Pittsburgh (44-58-1) has favored the under this season, while St. Louis (50-49-3) has marginally favored the over. That being said, the total has gone under in seven of St. Louis’ last eight games, which would suggest the under is a smart bet. However, in five meetings between the clubs this season, the total has gone over four times and under just once.

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