After struggling with most of their other division opponents, the St. Louis Cardinals finally get a matchup with an NL Central team they’ve handled this season when they begin a three-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday at PNC Park.
The Pirates (42-73) have the worst record in the National League and have dropped seven of nine meetings with the Cardinals (62-52) this season.
St. Louis is just 18-25 against its other four division rivals.
The Cardinals salvaged a split of their four-game series with Cincinnati with a 6-1 victory on Thursday, and increased their division lead to 3 1/2 games over the Reds.
The win allowed St. Louis to rebound from Wednesday night’s 8-7 loss, which the Reds won on David Ross’ two-run walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth.
“To come back after we got beat like that last night, that was impressive,” manager Tony La Russa said.
Chris Duncan hit two of the Cardinals’ four home runs for his third consecutive multihit game. He is batting .321 (27-for-84) with seven homers, 14 RBIs and 23 runs scored in 24 games since the All-Star break.
“They switched the momentum on us last night, but it’s our job to keep our composure and do what we’re capable of doing,” said Scott Spiezio, who homered in the fifth inning.
Spiezio started in place of third baseman Scott Rolen, who sat out with back spasms. Rolen said he hoped to be ready to play against the Pirates this weekend.
“I think it’s literally day-to-day,” La Russa said. “Give it treatment and rest.”
Jeff Suppan (9-6, 4.85 ERA) looks for his fourth win in five starts when he takes the mound for St. Louis on Friday. The right-hander has been nearly flawless since the All-Star break, going 3-1 with a 1.95 ERA in five outings.
He allowed four hits and one run in 7 1-3 innings to defeat Milwaukee 7-1 on Sunday.
Suppan is 1-1 with an 8.00 ERA in two starts against the Pirates this season, but is 7-2 with a 3.61 ERA in 13 career starts against his former team.
Suppan went 10-7 with a 3.57 ERA in 21 starts for Pittsburgh in 2003 before being dealt to Boston.
After being swept by Houston in three games, the Pirates have lost five in a row and are 20 1/2 games behind St. Louis.
Pittsburgh scored only four runs in the series against the Astros and has been held to two runs or fewer in each of its last four contests.
Zach Duke (7-10, 5.35) looks for his first win in four outings when he starts for Pittsburgh. The 23-year-old left-hander beat the Rockies on July 19, but is 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA in three starts since then.
He gave up nine hits and five runs in six innings of a 7-5 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Saturday.
“I left a couple of pitches up in the first, and they hit them,” Duke said. “It’s something I have to figure out. I’ve got to get the ball down in the first inning and just not try and be too fine.”
Duke is 1-0 with a 6.55 ERA in two starts against the Cardinals this season. He pitched two scoreless innings against St. Louis as a rookie last year.