As anyone following the standings knows well, the St. Louis Cardinals are not an easy team to catch. They are 1 1/2 games in front of the Pirates and have won five of their past six.
There is much anticipation, and understandably so, for the five-game series with the Cardinals that begins Monday at PNC Park. But what transpires before is just as important. The Cardinals have a difficult schedule, the Pirates have an easy one.
The Pirates play Washington this afternoon, the Cardinals play Philadelphia tonight. On the weekend, the Pirates have three games in Miami against the Marlins, (37-62) the worst team in the NL. At the same time, St. Louis is in Atlanta for three games with the Braves (57-44), the third-best team in the league.
There are no sure things in baseball. With so many game, there’s no such thing as an upset. But the chances are not remote that when that epic series begins Monday the team in first place won’t be St. Louis.
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Right-handed lineup: Facing tough Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez, manager Clint Hurdle has loaded his lineup with right-handed batter, and that does not included Neil Walker. The difficulties Walker, a switch-hitter, has had batting right-handed vs. left-handed pitchers (11-for-57, .193) are well documented. Jordy Mercer moves over to play second with Clint Barmes at shortstop. With Jose Tabata unavailable to start after being hit by a pitch last night, Josh Harrison is in right field. Harrison is 2-for-3 with a home run and three RBIs against Gonzalez. The only lefty in the lineup is Pedro Alvarez.
Since coming off the disabled list July 7, after missing almost a month, A.J. Burnett is 0-1 in three starts with a 2.76 ERA. For the season, he is 4-7 with a 3.07 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. He has not finished the sixth inning since coming back from injury. In his most recent start, he gave up 10 hits and two earned run in 5 1/3 innings. Adam LaRoche is 7-for-20 with two doubles and a homer and five RBIs vs. Burnett and Jayson Werth is 2-for-9 with two homers.
Opposing pitcher: Gonzalez, 7-3, 2.89 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, is one of the best pitchers in the National League. He his 10th in ERA, 16th in WHIP, sixth in BAA (.207) and 11th in OPS-against (.621). He is beyond outstanding against lefties, which is why the Pirates have eight right-handed batters facing him. His line vs. left-handed hitters: .150./.165/.239 -- .404. Against right-handers his line is ..225/.320/.368 -- .688. He has faced almost exactly three times more RHB than LHB yet he has walked 47 righties and only two lefties. In his most recent start, a 3-1 win over the Dodgers, he pitched six innings and allowed four hits and no runs while walking two and striking out 11.
Pirates lineup, 12:35 start:
1. Marte, LF
2. Mercer, 2B
3. McCutchen, CF
4. Martin, C
5. Alvarez, 3B
6. Sanchez, 1B
7. Harrison, RF
8. Barmes, SS
9. Burnett, P