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Pirates, Cardinals open 3-game set Friday at Busch
By: Freddy Wander - StatFox
Published: 4/25/2014  at  4:02:00 AM
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First pitch: Friday, 8:15 p.m. ET
Line: St. Louis -115, Pittsburgh +105, Total: 7

The top teams from the NL Central last season, the Pirates and Cardinals, meet for their second series of the season starting Friday night at Busch Stadium.

Neither team has been looking like the playoff teams that they were last season, as both are at least five back in the loss column in the NL Central Division behind Milwaukee's MLB-best 16-6 mark. Pittsburgh could not get its offense going against the Reds over a four-game set to start the week, scoring just four runs in the final three games; all of which were losses. The Pirates have lost six of their past seven contests, and they are just 3-11 since winning their first three series to start the season. Reigning MVP OF Andrew McCutchen was the lone bright spot in Pittsburgh’s series against Cincinnati, going 8-for-13 with three home runs and five walks over the four games. St. Louis has had its own hardships lately, and while its stellar pitching allowed just nine runs in the four games against the Mets, the club lost 3-of-4, as its offense was able to plate just six runs. The Cardinals' starters in the series allowed just six runs in 23.1 IP (2.31 ERA) while giving up 17 hits and striking out 29 batters (11 walks). Two of the better young starters in the league will be squaring off in this NL Central battle, as 23-year old RHP Gerrit Cole (2-1, 3.67 ERA) of the Pirates goes up against fellow 23-year old RHP Shelby Miller (1-2, 3.57 ERA). Pittsburgh is not looking forward to going back on the road as it has gone just 3-6 away from home, while St. Louis is a solid 4-2 at home this year. The Pirates took two of three games the first time these clubs met this season on April 4-6, and actually hold a 22-20 advantage going back to the start of 2012 while being just 9-12 when visiting the Cardinals. Pittsburgh has not been great this year, but the club is 50-28 (.641) after batting .250 or worse over a 20-game span since the beginning of last season. On the other hand, the Pirates are only 18-34 (.346) after nine consecutive games versus division rivals since the start of the 2012 season.

Gerrit Cole has thrown at least six innings in each of his four starts this year, but has struggled with giving up home runs, allowing four long-balls so far on the year. He has yet to translate his big strikeout numbers from the minor leagues to the majors, with 7.3 K/9 in 2014. He has been stellar over his three starts against the Cardinals in his young career, going 2-1 with a 2.50 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 13 K's and 4 BB. Two of those outings came in the playoffs last October, but Cole faced them earlier this season too on April 4, getting a win while throwing seven frames, giving up two runs on six hits and two walks, while fanning three. Only 2B Matt Carpenter (2-for-3, 1 HR, 2 RBI) and OF Matt Holiday (2-for-3) have multiple hits against the righty so far in this matchup, while 1B Matt Adams (0-for-2), OF Allen Craig (0-for-3) and C Yadier Molina (0-for-3) have gone hitless. Pittsburgh’s bullpen has been one of the best in the league at 6-3 with a 2.92 ERA, but is just 4-for-10 in save chances. Blowing three of those saves is closer Jason Grilli (4.50 ERA, 4 saves) who has allowed two home runs and four walks in just eight innings.

Shelby Miller was tremendous in his rookie campaign, going 15-9 with a 3.06 ERA (1.21 WHIP), but started this year out giving up eight runs in 11.1 IP over his first two starts. But his past two starts have been great, as he's allowed just one run on seven hits in 11.1 frames while having 14 strikeouts, but also eight walks. His control issues have led to 5.6 BB/9 and 2.0 HR/9 this season with three of his five homers allowed coming in his first outing. The Pirates have given him a lot of trouble in his career so far, and he has gone 0-5 in his five starts against them with a 5.93 ERA and 1.72 WHIP, while allowing multiple home runs in each of the past four outings against them. Three of the home runs have come off the bat of 3B Pedro Alvarez, who is only 3-for-13 (3 RBI) against Miller with five strikeouts. C Russell Martin has two home runs of his own in the matchup as part of his 4-for-9 clip overall. The relievers for St. Louis have combined to go 0-3 with a 4.20 ERA, and are 6-for-7 in their save chances. Closer Trevor Rosenthal (6.10 ERA, 6 saves) is perfect in his save opportunities despite a high ERA, and has 11 strikeouts and six walks over 10.1 frames this year.

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