Pirates Look to Keep Win Streak Alive, Cardinals Trying to Win Again in Astros Series

Once a team constantly sitting near the bottom of the NL Central, the Pittsburgh Pirates (46-30) have won four straight games and sit in the second spot, one game behind the leading St. Louis Cardinals (47-29).

Say it ain’t so?

The Pirates sit at No. 5 on this week’s MLB.com power rankings. It cites Pedro Alvarez as a contributing factor to the team’s success from his 55 games that have produced a .271 batting average, 19 home runs and 52 RBIs.

The team could see their good play continue as its injured starting pitchers will slowly begin returning to the rotation. Starter Wandy Rodriguez could be back this week, reported the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

On Sunday, Rodriguez had his initial rehab and Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said he was ready, noting that a second rehab start won’t be needed. The pitcher will bring a 3.59 ERA from 62 2/3 innings.

Also returning to the rotation is righty Jeanmar Gomez (2-0). On Wednesday, he’ll exit the disabled list and immediately take the mound against the Seattle Mariners (34-43).

After Gomez, A.J. Burnett could be the third starting pitcher to return and that means a too-crowded pitching stable. Burnett was eligible to exit DL on Monday but he is yet to throw on the mound.

Gerrit Cole

Gerrit Cole

Which then leaves rookie pitcher righty Gerrit Cole (3-0, 3.44 ERA) in a quandry. He has played well in the rotation but he could be sent back to the minors according to Huntington. His next scheduled start is on Friday against the Milwaukee Brewers (31-43).

Huntington said of the potential demotion, “There’s a business component to it, as far as keeping our depth. Gerrit’s probably got the best stuff of anybody in the rotation … (and) he’s made three impressive outings. But the challenge is, if we need another starter (due to injury) later, it may make sense to send Gerrit back so we have a sixth quality starter.”

Gomez could also join him in the move back to the minors.

But there’s more questions regarding the team’s pitchers: What should they do with righty James McDonald (shoulder discomfort). His rehab assignment will expire by Wednesday and he’ll either could go to the minors (needs to clear waivers) or there’s also a possible trade.

Looking at the Pirates schedule this week, they will travel for a two-game series against the Mariners. In Game 1 on Tuesday, lefty Jeff Locke (6-1) will take the mound for the Pirates against lefty Joe Saunders (5-7).

The Pirates will see win No. 5 (-123, 7 o/u).

In other NL Central news, the Cardinals still sit at No. 1 in the MLB power rankings even with their three-game losing streak thanks to last weekend’s sweep by the Texas Rangers (44-32 with a five-game win streak). Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina is having an epic season and as of Monday, the player sat at the top in All-Star voting for NL players.

The Cardinals, with the NL’s top record, will begin a two-game series against the AL-worst Houston Astros (29-48) on Tuesday evening down in Houston.

Righty Jake Westbrook (3-2) will take the mound for the Cardinals and will look for a repeat of his last pitching with his dominant performance.

Jake Westbrook

Jake Westbrook

In his last start on June 14 after time off due to elbow inflammation, Westbrook allowed five runs during five innings in the team’s 5-4 defeat versus the Miami Marlins (25-50). In his next visit to the mound last Wednesday, he yielded an unearned run with two hits over seven innings in a 4-1 win against division foe, the Chicago Cubs (31-43), according to ESPN.

For the Astros, righty Lucas Harrell (5-7) will take the mound and look for his seventh win over 10 home games. It’s been a good month for Harrell as he’s 1-1 (1.73 ERA) after May’s 1-4 ( 7.53 ERA).

Look for the Cardinals to get back on track with the win (-150, 9 o/u).





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