With the Pirates off last night, the Cardinals lost to the Reds (their third loss to the Reds in four games and their fifth loss in seven against the Reds and Pirates). That sets the scene for the final Pirates/Cardinals series of the year (for now?) this weekend at Busch Stadium thusly: the Pirates have a 1 1/2 game lead on the Cardinals and a three game lead on the Reds. That means that the only way that this weekend can end with anyone other than the Pirates in first place is if the Cardinals sweep the Pirates. If the Pirates can win two games in this series, they will enter the season's third-to-last week with a 2 1/2 game lead on the Cardinals and at least a two-game lead on the Reds, depending on how the Reds handle the Dodgers in Cincinnati this weekend.
Which is to say this: the NL Central will not be decided this weekend, but when it finally is decided it's going to be the outcome of weekends like this one that create whatever the final result is. The Pirates have a chance to put some real space between themselves and the Cardinals, and doing that is how divisions are won.
I am not thrilled with the pitching matchups this weekend. AJ Burnett goes tonight against Joe Kelly, who's been really fantastic lately. Charlie Morton goes tomorrow against Adam Wainwright. Those two seem to be headed in opposite directions lately, but facing Wainwright on the road in a big game makes me pretty nervous. Jeff Locke will make his return to the Pirates on Sunday, which is terrifying for its own obvious reasons. Last weekend's series broke nicely for the Pirates in terms of pitching matchups (save Sunday, of course). This week has me holding my breath a little bit more.
The first pitch tonight is at 8:15. Starting this series off with a win would be huge.
Pat, actually, it looks like Locke will be going tomorrow night against Wainwright, and Charlie will be pitching Sunday against Wacha. I too am worried about Locke, but we need a lefty against the Cards for at least one game, and we need to see if the time off has fixed Locke's psyche (and pitching). I'm not optimistic about Locke, and I pray that Hurdle has him on a short leash. (Short as in walk two batters and give up a solid hit and he's out.) Wacha seems like a decent pitcher and the Pirates historically don't do well against pitchers with little history, but I trust Charlie. With Morneau and Byrd, we are definitely a better hitting team, especially against these right handers, and I think we have a good shot for success this weekend. Let's go Bucs!
Y'know, I'm not as concerned about pitching matchups as I was before we added Morneau and Byrd. I'm pretty confident these Bucs can put 4 runs up on anyone, and I'm equally confident that they can hold the Cards to 3 runs or less. Locke will be good for at least one game. The Pirates need 5 innings out of him: remember, Grilli is back. I'll trust Watson, Grilli, and Melancon with the last 4 innings against anyone.
5-2, 5-3, 7-5. Bucs sweep. Stick a fork in St Louis, the Cardinals are done. (Yeah, predictions are stupid, but if it happens I can say I called it!)
I have a lot of confidence in Hurdle and Searage's knowledge of their pitching staff, but thought I was hearing wrong when the broadcasters at a recent game mentioned that Locke would be starting against the Cardinals. I would feel much more comfortable if he was relegated to bullpen duty for the remainder of the season -- that way he could be yanked quickly if he got in over his head. I don't understand how a few extra days of rest could have cured him of his problems. He has been going downhill ever since his back issues before the All Star break. Surely Cumpton would be a better gamble?