The Pirates' first real test as contenders this year was the five-game set against the Cardinals at PNC Park two weeks ago, and the Pirates passed that test with flying colors. As a result, the Bucs have been in first place for two full weeks now. What their success in that series has earned them is this: another big series, this time on the road in St. Louis. This time, neither the Cardinals nor the Pirates are playing terribly well. The Pirates were just swept by the Rockies, and the Cardinals have lost five of their last seven to the Dodgers and Cubs. There are three games this week and the Pirates are three-games up. The math is easy. A sweep by the Pirates gives them a commanding six-game lead on the Cardinals. A sweep by the Cardinals ties the division. Two wins in either direction will make the winning team's situation slightly better as the clock ticks on towards the end of the 2013 season.
Tonight's game matches Charlie Morton and Adam Wainwright. Morton's last start against the Marlins was pretty excellent, but he also started the 13-0 blowout loss to the Cardinals that ended the last series at PNC. His peripherals continue to be outstanding this year as his groundball rate approaches 65% and his strikeout and walk rates are both career bests. Wainwright has been excellent this year and is probably an NL Cy Young contender, but the Pirates managed to ding him for four runs in eight innings in his only start against the Bucs.
There's one important roster note before the game: Alex Presley was demoted to make room for Andrew Lambo. Not only is Starling Marte not headed for the disabled list, he's batting first and playing left field today. Lambo, however, is not in the starting lineup, as Clint Hurdle plays Small Sample Size Roulette by putting Jose Tabata (6-for-13 against Wainwright) into the lineup.
The first pitch tonight is at 8:15.
UPDATE: Tabata's scratched with an illness. Lambo will start.