Major League Baseball

First-place Cardinals flying high, face Pirates next

13296404CARDINALS (79-61) AT PIRATES (61-79)
7:05 p.m. ET; ATTSN-PT, FS-M, MLB.TV

There was a time when a peek ahead to this weekend’s matchup between the St. Louis Cardinals (-1.5) and host Pittsburgh Pirates (+1.5) looked as if it might help determine a postseason spot for both clubs.

Not anymore. As the teams open a three-game series Friday, only the Cardinals are in the hunt.

At the All-Star break, the Pirates were fourth in the division, a half-game behind the Cardinals, and both were within spitting distance of the top two spots in the division. St. Louis, now first in the National League Central, has surged, while Pittsburgh, last in the division, has sagged.

St. Louis, coming off Thursday’s 10-0 pasting of San Francisco, looks to be steaming toward a postseason run. The Cardinals finished a six-day, eight-game homestand 6-2. They are 21-6 in their past 27 games and 35-17 since the All-Star break.

“We don’t even feel like it’s September right now,” said Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong, who homered Thursday. “We just feel like we’re out here just playing and just trying to keep winning every day. Everyone prepares to win. Good routines. Keeping our bodies strong.”

Dakota Hudson, the winner Thursday against the Giants to run his record to 15-6, agreed.

“Playing good baseball. Enjoying each other’s company,” he said. “Being able to go out there and play good baseball, have a blast doing it.”

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, suffered a collapse after the All-Star break. Even though the Pirates have won five of their past seven games, they went through a dismal stretch earlier. They are 17-34 since the break.

The Cardinals have had a hand in that. They are 9-1 against the Pirates since the break.

The Pirates blew an early four-run lead Thursday in a 10-7 loss to Miami. A couple of key errors in that game, and continued brain strains on fundamental plays have proven costly.

“It’s not going to win you ballgames,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said of the sloppy play. “You’ve got to meet the demands of the game. When you don’t meet the demands of the game, you put yourselves in position to lose ballgames. … Giving anybody extra outs does not help, and we’ve done more than our fair share of them.”

In the opener for the weekend series, St. Louis right-hander Miles Mikolas (8-13, 4.32 ERA) is scheduled to face Pittsburgh right-hander Joe Musgrove (9-12, 4.67 ERA).

Mikolas did not get a decision Sunday against Cincinnati when he gave up three runs in six innings. For the 10th time in 28 starts this season, he did not walk anyone. He is 4-3 with a 3.15 ERA in 12 career games, 10 of them starts, against Pittsburgh.

However, St. Louis is 3-1 in his four starts at PNC Park dating to last season, and he has won both his starts there this year. In addition, Mikolas pitched his second career shutout July 15 against Pittsburgh, an eight-hitter and 7-0 win in St. Louis, another of his games with no walks.

Musgrove on Saturday picked up his first win since July 30, giving up three runs and eight hits in six innings, with five strikeouts and one walk, at Colorado. That left him with a better ERA on the road, 3.97 in 15 games, than at PNC Park, 5.35 in 14 starts.

The Pirates are 12-5, and he is 9-3, in games when he pitches at least six innings.

Against the Cardinals, Musgrove is 1-6 with a 7.05 ERA in seven career starts, including 0-4 this season with a 10.00 ERA.

–Field Level Media

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