The Pittsburgh Pirates got their weekend series off to a good start. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals stumbled in this battle of the teams with the two best records in the National League Central Division and the National League at large.
Both teams want to get the division title so that they don’t have to sweat out the one-shot NL Wild Card Game, which is currently looking like it will be against the Chicago Cubs. The Pirates and Cardinals play again on Saturday, but we’re going to look at Sunday night’s series finale, as NL Central leaders battle each other throughout the month of September and into the start of October.
The Pirates did lose a recent series to the Milwaukee Brewers, which cost them some ground in their attempt to catch the Cardinals. However, they won the first game of this weekend series on Friday night, and they did it from both sides in a complete performance. The Pirates scored two runs in the top of the first to immediately give starter J.A. Happ some breathing room. Happ immediately settled into his start and gave the Pirates a gem. He blanked the Cardinals through four innings, and then the Pirates struck yet again versus St. Louis starter Carlos Martinez, who has not been as strong in recent weeks as he was much earlier in the season. The Pirates built their lead to 4-0 in the seventh, and they cruised from there. They sent a message to the Pirates that they weren’t going to go away in this divisional race, which is not the tightest in baseball (that’s the AL East between the New York Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays), but is definitely the one with the two best teams involved.
The Cardinals had won their previous three series, but even with that fact in mind, St. Louis entered Saturday having lost two straight games at home. That’s something which hasn’t happened very often this season. The Cardinals are usually very good about minimizing losing streaks, but the key point to make here is that if they allow themselves to go into a tailspin now, they will lose this division race. The Pirates have not backed down at any point during the season, and they’re not going to stop now. St. Louis has to go to Pittsburgh later in September as well, so the Cardinals feel almost as much pressure as the Pirates do to win this game.
The Pirates don’t know what to expect from Gerrit Cole right now. Their ace’s performances are somewhat concerning, though he’s been strong enough at times to not warrant a very nervous reaction. Cole got roughed up for five runs in four innings by the Milwaukee Brewers earlier this week. When he last pitched in St. Louis, the Cardinals scored four runs on him in 5 1/3 innings. Those numbers won’t get it done. However, Cole did pitch at least seven innings while giving up only one run in his two previous starts before the Milwaukee disaster. He comes and goes, and Pittsburgh needs its ace – with a 2.64 ERA and 1.13 WHIP – to take command.
The Cardinals will put John Lackey on the hill, with a 2.87 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. Lackey is not as dominant as Cole can be when at his best, but he’s a little more consistent and not as prone to huge fluctuations. Lackey gave up five runs three starts ago on August 21, but he hasn’t given up more than three runs in any of his other starts from the last 10 games he’s pitched. This feels like a very even matchup on Sunday night baseball.
What’s The Pick?
The Cardinals still call the shots in the NL Central, but this is Gerrit Cole’s moment, a time for him to do what an ace does, so I'm taking the Pirates with my MLB picks on Sunday. Pittsburgh is going to make this race closer before it’s ultimately over.
MLB Pick: Pirates -105 at The Greek