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.