More than just divisional rivals, the Cards and Bucs have the two best records in baseball, and, as such, the first two teams two clinch playoff berths. Monday’s showdown is the first of a three-game series that represents the Pirates' last best chance to wrest control of the NL Central, and relegate the Cards to the one-game Wild Card playoff round. It would be sweet revenge for their 2013 loss to St. Louis in the NLDS.
Cardinals starter Lance Lynn has faded down the stretch, going 4-5 in his last 10 starts, while averaging less than 5 innings a game. In 49 innings he’s surrendered 56 hits and 27 walks, while striking out only 35. In three starts against Pittsburgh this year, he’s gone 0-2 with a 6.94 ERA and a 1.80 WHIP, despite an impressive 8.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Pirates starter JA Happ, on the other hand, has proven to be a key deadline acquisition. Traded from the Mariners on July 31, Happ made his first start for the Pirates on August 4, against the Cubbies, lasting only 4 1/3, giving up 9 hits and 4 runs. But since then, he’s gone 7-1 with a 1.72 ERA and 52 Ks versus only 8 walks in 47 innings.
The Pirates have been hot of late, despite the loss of South Korean rookie sensation Jung Ho Kang, whose knee was blown out September 17, when the Cubs’ Chris Coghlan tried to break up a double play. The Pirates’ roster flexibility has been key in overcoming the loss of Kang, who’d split his time between third and short. Super-sub Josh Harrison went 10-for-20 in the first 6 games after Kang went down, and Aramis Ramirez resumed duties at the hot corner, while posting a .982 OPS over the same span.
By run differential, this is the best Pirates team since the Barry Bonds era, but if there’s to be any hope of overtaking the Cardinals, they’ll have to sweep St. Louis, and even then, they’ll have their work cut out for them.
All stats courtesy Baseball-Reference.com.
Watch the St. Louis Cardinals vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates at 7:00pm ET Monday on ESPN2.