This weekend at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, the Cards kick off a 3-game set with the Pirates, who are currently tied for first place in the National League Central Division standings. If you’re like most baseball fans, and there’s no reason to believe you aren’t, then you’re probably surprised to see the Bucs in this position on this day. Blah, blah, blah about X number of years since this, or last time they were this high in the standings on such-and-such day, it was that.
The reality of the world we live in today is that the President of the United States in an African-American, individuals can book a flight to space, and the Pittsburgh Pirates are playing meaningful games as the trade deadline approaches. Ask yourself if fifteen years ago you’d have thought any of those would be true statements today.
In his last 8 games, Albert Pujols has 10 RBI to go with 9 hits, 4 bombs, and 6 runs scored. Said another way: He seems to be heating up, just as the redbirds head into Albert’s “Home away from home”. His numbers at PNC are so positively sick, it makes me wonder if Clint Hurdle or Ray Searage slept at all last night. The legendary slugger has played 80 games at PNC Park throughout his career to this point, and all he has to show for it is a .387 AVG, a 1.197 OPS, 26 HR, to go with his matching totals of 77 runs & RBI. He’s also been given 14 intentional passes to this point, while in the steel city.
The pitching matchups will be the key to this entire series. On Friday night, Carpenter (5-7) will square off against lefty Paul Maholm (6-9), who has been a workhorse for the Pirates this year, having logged over 126 innings going into the weekend. Saturday, the Cards only left-handed starter, Jamie Garcia (9-4) will face Kevin Correia (11-7). Correia is having a breakout season, and the Cards lineup will have their work cut out for them on Saturday night. Sunday’s matinee [probably] features Kyle Lohse (8-7) vs. Charlie Morton (8-5). This could be the Cardinals’ chance to put an exlcamation point on this series, as Morton hasn’t even reached the 6IP mark in his last 7 outings, dating back to the 4th of June. Though, Lohse’s finger remains a question in the minds of Tony LaRussa and others. Kyle left the team in New York to return to St. Louis for an evaluation on the middle finger of his pitching hand. Doctors cleared him to rejoin the team in Pittsburgh, but it could become an issue that resurfaces after he takes the mound on Sunday.
It’s a big series for both clubs, and you can be sure that the Brewers (and even Reds) will be watching closely from San Fransisco & Cincinnati, respectively. The Brewers can’t seem to buy a win on the road this year, even if they hadn’t tied up all that money in Braun. Meanwhile the Reds are hosting a Braves team that could possibly see a roster change or two during the series, as the Atlanta club has been mentioned in numerous trade rumors in the past several days.
So, the battles rage on for first place in the NL Central, among three or four teams., albeit not exactly the teams we all originally thought. The standings may change a few times per day this weekend, as the Cards/Pirates and Braves/Reds hook up in the Eastern time zone, while the Brewers/Giants play out West this weekend.
The Pirates are for real, and until the standings say otherwise, they are a team to be reckoned with, and not taken lightly. If the Cardinals are to win this series, they’ll need solid pitching performances from their starters, who will also need to go deep into games. The St. Louis bullpen has been suspect all season, so any leads earned will hopefully be protected in the late innings. If not, St. Louis could easily find themselves in 3rd place by Sunday evening, and while only a couple of games back, that could be a huge, (insurmountable even) problem in another month or so. But, we’ll worry about that, if & when the time comes.