ST. LOUIS CARDINALS (18-19)
at PITTSBURGH PIRATES (16-20)
First pitch: Sunday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Line: St. Louis -105, Pittsburgh -105, Total: 7.5
National League Central rivals, the Cardinals and Pirates, close out their third series of the young season on Sunday night with Pittsburgh trying to complete the sweep and win its fifth straight game.
St. Louis has been one of the best franchises in the league over the past decade, but has gotten off to a slow start to the 2014 season. However, the club entered Friday having won three of four games. The Cardinals dominated Atlanta by a 12-6 score over a three-game set, which was highlighted by a huge performance from starter Adam Wainwright (8 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 6 K’s) in a 7-1 victory on Wednesday. OF Peter Bourjos (.217 BA) finally broke out of a slump and went 3-for-4 with a homer and 2 RBI in the game, while OF Matt Holliday (.285 BA) was 6-for-13 with 5 RBI over the series. While St. Louis has been playing poorly this year, the Pirates have been even worse, but are coming off two straight series wins against the Blue Jays and Giants. After a tough 11-10 loss to San Francisco in extra innings on Monday, their pitching allowed only four runs in the final two games, earning a win in each. Reigning National League MVP OF Andrew McCutchen (.321 BA) continued his monster season, going 7-for-15 with a double, triple and 3 RBI in the series. To close this weekend series, the Cardinals will send 23-year old RHP Shelby Miller (4-2, 3.20 ERA) to the mound looking for his fourth straight victory. Opposing him for the Pirates is RHP Charlie Morton (0-4, 3.45 ERA) who is seeking his first victory of the season. Coming into this series, St. Louis is 11-12 when playing on the road while the Pittsburgh is an even 10-10 at PNC Park. This matchup has been a great one since the start of 2012, with the Pirates holding a slim 25-22 edge, including and impressive 15-8 at home (.652).
Shelby Miller started out the season with two straight losses, but has since gone 4-0 with a 1.93 ERA in his past five starts. Despite his success, Miller has still walked 23 batters in only 39.1 innings on the mound (5.3 BB/9) and given up seven homers (1.60 HR/9). His last start came against the Braves on Monday, when he threw only five frames (86 pitches) while giving up six hits and two runs, while striking out five and walking two. Miller has already faced the Pirates twice this year, getting two very different results, as he allowed three home runs leading to five runs in a 12-2 loss in his first start of the year and then rebounded with 5.2 shutout innings (3 H, 4 BB, 4 K’s) and a win in his second outing. Overall in his young career, Miller is just 1-5 against Pittsburgh with a 4.91 ERA and 1.64 WHIP, while walking a hefty 16 batters in 33 innings. C Russell Martin is eligible to come off the DL on Sunday and is 4-for-11 (1 double, 2 HR, 3 RBI) against Miller, while OF Andrew McCutchen is 5-for-15 with a double and two strikeouts when facing the righty. With three home runs in just 15 at-bats in this matchup, 3B Pedro Alvarez has hit for power, but those are his only hits against Miller, who has struck him out six times. Coming into this series, the St. Louis bullpen has gone 1-6 with a 3.62 ERA and 1.10 WHIP, while going 9-for-12 (75%) in save chances. Closer Trevor Rosenthal (4.70 ERA, 9 saves) has been perfect in nine save opportunities and has 20 strikeouts and nine walks in his 15.1 innings coming into this three-game set.
Charlie Morton has had some trouble with his defense behind him, as he has already allowed six unearned runs in his first 44.1 innings on the mound. The sinkerballer has also seen his control fall off, as he has walked 16 batters (3.3 BB/9) while striking out 28 (5.7 K/9). Morton was amazing in his last outing on Tuesday though, pitching eight innings of three-hit ball while giving up just one unearned run and striking out three (2 walks) in a no-decision. Morton has not faced the Cardinals yet this season, but has been horrible against them in his career, going 2-9 with a 6.52 ERA and 1.91 WHIP in 14 starts while walking 37 batters in just 67.2 frames (4.9 BB/9). Outfielders Allen Craig (9-for-18, 2 doubles, 2 RBI), Matt Holliday (8-for-25, 1 HR, 5 RBI) and Jon Jay (6-for-18, 2 doubles, 3 RBI, 5 K’s) have absolutely teed off against Morton in their careers, while C Yadier Molina (8-for-19, 4 doubles, 6 RBI) has also done very well. Utility infielder Daniel Descalso may not see the field, as he is 0-for-10 with three strikeouts against the righty. The Pirates’ bullpen has been great as a whole this year going 10-5 with a 2.86 ERA and 1.28 WHIP through Friday, but are just 6-for-14 (43%) in save chances. With closer Jason Grilli on the DL, Mark Melancon (1.69 ERA, 2 saves) has taken over the role and gone 2-for-3 in his save chances while having a solid 10:1 K/BB ratio in 16.0 relief innings.