Cardinals Pirates Baseball

St. Louis Cardinals' Jose Martinez drives in a run with an RBI single off Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Joe Musgrove during the first inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Thursday, July 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar_

The Cardinals are riding high these days. Since being swept out of Dodger Stadium by Los Angeles from August 5-7, the Redbirds haven’t lost a series, winning 21 of their last 27 games to settle into their new digs as leaders of the NL Central.

This weekend, the Cardinals head back out on the road after a profitable 6-2 home stand. St. Louis will set up shop at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, where the Cardinals have an opportunity to kick the Pirates while they’re down.

What has Pittsburgh been up to lately?

Though the Buccos looked to be turning a corner last weekend with a four-game sweep of the lowly Rockies, they couldn’t continue that momentum into a series with another last-place club, the Miami Marlins. The Pirates dropped their mid-week series with the Fish to cement their status in the cellar of the NL Central heading into this weekend.

Pitching match-ups seem to favor St. Louis

Friday: Miles Mikolas (8-13, 4.32 ERA) vs. Alex McRae (0-3, 9.98 ERA)

2019 has been a disappointment for Miles Mikolas, at least by the standards he set with his performance last season. The bulk of August was particularly rough, as Mikolas allowed five earned runs in three straight outings in the middle of the month. But the 31-year-old enters Friday’s game having logged consecutive quality starts, and will look to build on that positive momentum against the Pirates.

Joe Musgrove, whom the Cardinals have crushed this season, was scratched from Friday’s start with a foot issue. That means the Cardinals will instead see 26-year-old Alex McRae in this game. McRae is a right-hander with an ERA near 10.00 in his 15.1 big league innings this season. He’s faced the Cardinals once, for 1.2 innings of scoreless relief back on July 25. Given the Cardinals’ penchant for struggling against no-name pitchers, this game could be an absolute wild card. On paper, you’ve got to like St. Louis’ chances, but a late scratch for Musgrove means the Cardinals weren’t prepared to face McRae. It really feels like anything can happen in this one.

Saturday: Adam Wainwright (10-9, 4.30 ERA) vs. Steven Brault (4-3, 3.88 ERA)

Though Adam Wainwright is coming off a gem against the Giants at Busch Stadium, we tend to brace for impact when Waino pitches on the road this season. His ERA in away games is 6.54 in 2019, a total reversal from his sensational 2.43 mark in home games. Specific to PNC Park this season, Wainwright has thrown just nine innings across two starts, allowing eight runs for an 8.00 ERA. To thrive on Saturday, Wainwright will need to find a way to limit the free passes; he's walked eight batters in those nine innings at PNC Park this season. He’s dominated the Pirates this year when he’s faced them at Busch (13 innings, two earned runs, two total walks), so perhaps this is the time he translates that success back to the road.

Steven Brault didn’t begin the season in the rotation for Pittsburgh, but he’s made a nice home there over the latter part of the campaign. Since the beginning of August, Brault has a 3.41 ERA in six starts, logging 34.1 innings. Though the Cards won't get to see Musgrove, Brault’s numbers against the Cardinals this season are also pretty brutal: 9.90 ERA in 10.0 innings, with three home runs allowed. Among individual hitters, Goldschmidt (4-for-9, two homers, two walks) and Jose Martinez (4-for-9, a double, a homer, two walks) have hit Brault well.

Sunday: Jack Flaherty (9-7, 3.14 ERA) vs. TBA

The Pirates have yet to announce a starting pitcher for Sunday, but minor-leaguer James Marvel has joined the team and could be in line for that opportunity. Marvel posted quality numbers between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis this season, going 16-5 with a 2.94 ERA. He recorded just 136 strikeouts in 162.1 innings, so he’s probably not a guy that would blow the Cardinals away with his stuff. But as we’ve seen on occasion, the Redbirds tend to struggle to square up rookie pitchers they’ve never seen.

Another rookie, Mitch Keller, could also be in line for the start, according to the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette. Keller’s status is uncertain after he was struck by a comebacker on the right wrist Tuesday night.

There’s no uncertainty about who will take the ball for the Cardinals Sunday. Jack Flaherty has been objectively the best pitcher in the National League since early July, posting a 0.90 ERA over his last 70.1 innings. Across baseball, only the Astros Justin Verlander, who recently threw a no-hitter, has compiled more fWAR among starting pitchers (3.2) than Flaherty’s 2.7 fWAR during that span. He’s feeling it, and his starts have rapidly become ‘must-watch’ events over the last couple months.

Hot hitters: Pirates swinging the bats well of late

The Bucs have scored 54 runs in their last seven games, as Josh Bell, Adam Frazier and Bryan Reynolds each boast an OPS above 1.000 over the past week. Reynolds even had a game recently where he homered from both sides of the plate. The rookie has put together a strong debut season in the big leagues, slashing a robust .333/.398/.538 in 475 plate appearances. 

Series prediction: One way or another, the Cardinals come away with another series win. I envision a couple high-scoring affairs Friday and Saturday, from which the Cardinals claim at least one win. Flaherty keep it rolling on Sunday as the Cardinals win a tighter contest in a quasi-pitchers’ duel as the Cardinals fail to tee off on whichever rookie starter the Pirates send out.

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