In a season of firsts, here’s another: When was the last time a contender reset its rotation for the Pirates?
That’s what the St. Louis Cardinals did in preparation for their three-game series with the Pirates that begins tonight at Busch Stadium. And why not? The Cardinals are in second place, three games behind the Pirates, and this series is of special importance to them. They have been losing more than they’ve been winning and they need to turn that around now, which is why they have Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn, their three best starters, set to pitch.
The Pirates also have reset their rotation. They will skip Gerrit Cole’s turn, although that’s more a move to rest Cole than anything else, considering he has an 0.86 WHIP since the All-Star Game.
The Cardinals come in playing bad baseball. They are 10-14 since the All-Star break with four of those losses coming in a five-game series against the Pirates. The Pirates have lost three in a row but are14-10 since the break.
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Roster move: As should have been expected, Alex Presley was returned to Indianapolis to make room on the roster for Andrew Lambo, who was originally not in the starting lineup but was inserted when Jose Tabata was a late scratch due to illness.
Slumping rotation: The Pirates pitching staff has the best ERA in the National League for the season but in the second half it is only seventh. Instead of having multiple pitchers in the top ten in ERA, the Pirates have zero in the second half. A.J. Burnett has their highest rank at 25 of the 63 pitchers who have thrown 20 or more innings. He is followed by Jeff Locke 37, Cole 44, Charlie Morton 49 and Francisco Liriano 55. In WHIP, Cole is seventh, followed by Morton at 38, Burnett 46, Liriano 47 and Locke 58. On note, Morton is second in K/B at 10.50 and Burnett fourth at K/9 10.22. As a group, the five Pirates starters have a post-ASG ERA of 3.93. That is inflated by the 2 1/3-inning-10-run performance of Liriano Friday night. If that performance is removed, it’s 3.36.
He’s good/he’s bad: Morton, 4-3, 3.88 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, starts for the Pirates. He is coming off his best start of the season, which was preceded by his worst start of the season. Morton has struck out 21 and walked two in his past four starts. But during that time he has a .316 BAA. Left-handers continue to be trouble for Morton. His OPS against them is .869. The only expected lefty starters for the Cardinals are second baseman Matt Carpenter and center fielder Jon Jay. When facing Morton, St. Louis batters have a .341 batting average and a .902 OPS. Allen Craig is 8-for-15 against Morton and Carlos Beltran 5-for-12.
Opposing pitcher: The right-handed Wainwright, 13-7, 2.66 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, has not pitched since Aug. 5. His five most recent starts have not been up to the high standards he established earlier. In those games his ERA is 4.11 and the Cardinals have lost the past three. In 20 games, 16 starts, against the Pirates, Wainwright is 8-4 but with a 5.19 ERA. Active Pirates are batting .357 against Wainwright with a whopping .966 OPS. Some Pirates against Wainwright: Russell Martin 9-for-19, Jose Tabata 6-for-13 with a homer, Neil Walker 5-for-13 with a homer and six RBIs, Pedro Alvarez 4-for-14 with a homer and six RBIs, Clint Barmes 7-for-19 with three doubles and a homer, Andrew McCutchen 9-for-23 and Garrett Jones 8-for-25
Pirates lineup, 8:15 p.m.:
1. Marte, LF
2. Walker, 2B
3. McCutchen, CF
4. Alvarez, 3B
5. Martin, C
6. Jones, 1B
7. Lambo, RF
8. Mercer, SS
9. Morton, P