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Pittsburgh Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals: Series Breakdown

The Pirates had and up and down series against the Philadelphia Phillies this week, but fortunately, they head into this weekend against the St. Louis Cardinals on the upside.  After dropping the first two games of the four-game set against the Phillies, the Bucs battled back, scoring 16 runs in the next two days to earn a series split while also winning the season series against their cross-state rivals.  Pittsburgh is once again one game out of first place in the N.L. Central behind the Cincinnati Reds as they enter play tonight at Busch Stadium in the biggest series of the season thus far.

After losing their third straight game on Tuesday night, the Bucs sent their two top pitchers to the mound on Wednesday and Thursday in James McDonald and A.J. Burnett, and while neither pitched a complete game or a shutout, both earned victories, keeping the Phillies’ offense in check for the majority of their respective outings, and put the Pirates’ offense in position to win the games…which they did.

Pittsburgh sits with a 40-35 record and is in the middle of one of most challenging road trips of the year.  And while the series at Citizens Bank Park was difficult, this weekend’s set against the Cardinals will be even tougher.

Despite an 0-5 performance yesterday, Andrew McCutchen has been an offensive stud all season.  Casey McGehee, Pedro Alvarez, and Garrett Jones are all being productive at the plate right now, which spells trouble for guys like Alex Presley and Jose Tabata who have been underperforming for the most part this season.  Newly signed Drew Sutton has done a nice job the past few days, and again, given the struggles of some of the other players in the lineup, he could see more time going forward.

Clint Barmes continues to be one of the biggest disappointments of the Pirates’ 2012 team thus far.  His bat hasn’t come around, despite being put in run-producing situations.  His defense has been solid, which was expected, but the abysmal offensive players are impossible to overlook.  Rod Barajas injured his knew in Philadelphia, which opened the door for Michael McKenry who had one of the best three-to-four game stretches of his young MLB career.  Barajas has not landed on the D.L., and will most likely (and hopefully) be in the lineup this weekend. 

As was the case with Citizens Bank Park, the Bucs have struggled mightily at Busch Stadium.  If this is going to be a special year for this team, they need to perform better in the more hostile environments in the league….beginning tonight in St. Louis.  Neither McDonald nor Burnett will pitch in this series, meaning the other Pirates’ starters will need to be solid against the Cardinals’ powerful lineup.  This is one of those statement series…a chance for the Pirates to formally announce to the Cards, and the rest of the league, that this won’t be like last year…they’re not going to fold.  After all, if the Bucs are going to contend for the N.L. Central, they need to win these types of matchups.

Pirates (40-35) vs. Cardinals (40-36)

About The Cardinals…

40-36 Record, 3rd In N.L. Central

Last Series:  2-1 Series Victory @ Miami Marlins

The Cardinals have had their ups and downs this season.  After a strong 14-8 start to the year in April, they relapsed a bit in May with a 13-16 mark.  Things looked to be headed in the same direction in June before they rolled off a five game winning streak, which was just snapped on Wednesday to the Miami Marlins.

The offense has been the driving force behind the Cards’ success thus far.  Yadier Molina is having another incredible season, which will actually surpass last year’s totals, which were career highs for the catcher.  His .316 average is incredibly high for him, but considering the way he’s historically hit against Pittsburgh, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to Pirates’ fans.  Carlos Beltran’s 20 homeruns and 59 RBI’s have him in the MVP conversation through the season’s first three months, while Rafael Furcal, who was rumored to be of the Pirates’ interest last offseason, leads the club in runs scored and stolen bases.

Lance Lynn and Kyle Lohse have been the leaders for the Cardinals’ pitching rotation, turning in records of 10-3 and 7-2 with ERA’s of 3.23 and 2.82 respectively.  Jake Westbrook and Adam Wainwright, on the other hand, have been disappointments thus far, with a 12-13 record between them.

With the way the Cardinals are hitting the ball, paired with the history at Busch Stadium, the Pirates will need to score a lot of runs to have a successful weekend.  After scoring 23 runs in four games against Philadelphia, the Bucs will look to continue their hot hitting in St. Louis.

Pitching Matchups:

6/29 – Kevin Correia (PIT) (3-6, 4.03 ERA, 31 K, 23 BB, WHIP 1.28) vs. Adam Wainwright (STL) (6-7, 4.32 ERA, 84 K, 27 BB, WHIP 1.29)

6/30 – Jeff Karstens (PIT) (0-2, 6.35 ERA, 9 K, 2 BB, WHIP 1.65) vs. Lance Lynn (STL) (10-3, 3.23 ERA, 92 K, 30 BB, WHIP 1.20)

7/1 – Erik Bedard (PIT) (4-8, 4.27 ERA, 72 K, 34 BB, WHIP 1.44) vs. Jake Westbrook (STL) (6-6, 3.77 ERA, 59 K, 25 BB, WHIP 1.32)

[box_dark] “It’s impressive.  There was some grit out there.” [/box_dark]

          Clint Hurdle on winning back to back games in Philadelphia this week

[box_dark] “Five consecutive wins is always a positive.  Guys are always going to remember that.  That was a good run.” [/box_dark]

          Cardinals’ Manager Mike Matheny on having their winning streak snapped in Miami.

The Pirates are a game out of first place, the Cardinals just a half game behind them.  More importantly than division standings at this point, though, is a gage of where exactly the Bucs stand right now.  Are they ready to take that next step to be considered a threat in the N.L. Central?  We’ll find out this weekend.

Check back here all weekend for recaps and reactions to each game in St. Louis from us, the Fans From The Stands!

And…

As Always…

Let’s Go Bucs!

Chad Carlson

Co-Editor of Fans From The Stands, Pirates' Beat Writer For Armchair Report, Sports writer for AMN, SteelTownRock And Music City Encore Editor

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