The St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates see each other a good bit as National League Central rivals, but they could be extra familiar with one another in a four-game series at PNC Park that opens Monday.
The Cardinals won two of three against Pittsburgh just last week in a series in St. Louis and are 4-5 against the Pirates this year.
Overall, St. Louis stacked three straight comeback wins before falling 3-2 Saturday in Cincinnati, then won 3-1 Sunday to take three of four from the Reds.
The Cardinals certainly have been more impressive on offense than Pittsburgh since the All-Star break with 49 runs while winning seven of 10 games. Meanwhile, the Pirates are 2-7 since the break and have scored 25 runs.
"We just haven't been able to get that traction that we would like," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said Sunday after a 2-1, 11-inning loss to Philadelphia.
St. Louis right-hander Daniel Ponce de Leon (1-0, 2.80 ERA) is scheduled to start the series opener against Pittsburgh right-hander Trevor Williams (3-3, 5.17).
Ponce de Leon doesn't have to think back too far to his most recent game against the Pirates. On Wednesday, he allowed a career-high eight hits and matched a career-high with four runs allowed in 3 2/3 innings, although his teammates bailed him out with a comeback 6-5 win.
"Just couldn't get a rhythm going," Ponce de Leon said. "Just kept getting picked here and there. Some of (it was) my delivery. The fastball wasn't there, so everything else just kind of spun off."
He made it clear the outing didn't affect his confidence.
"I'm OK," he said. "I went inside after and looked at a couple of things on video and I think I see something to work on."
That game marked Ponce de Leon's insertion into the rotation, with Michael Wacha going to the bullpen.
Overall, Ponce de Leon is 0-1 with a 6.23 ERA in two career starts against Pittsburgh.
Williams' turn to start Saturday was pushed back because of an illness that the club said included "severe flu-like symptoms." There was at least some chance he could have started Sunday, although Hurdle said that would have been "aggressive."
Williams went through a pregame regimen Sunday, and assuming there are no setbacks, Hurdle said, Williams will start the series opener against the Cardinals. It will be just his third start this month.
Williams is 1-2 with a 9.53 ERA in four starts since he came off the injured list (right side strain).
He last started July 14, giving up a season-worst eight runs and 11 hits in 5 1/3 innings in an 8-3 loss to the Cubs. He gave up three homers, including two on consecutive pitches.
"You just have to take it one pitch at a time and try and out-execute the other pitcher," Williams said.
Before that game, he had not pitched since July 1 because of paternity leave and the All-Star break.
Against St. Louis, Williams is 4-4 with a 5.50 ERA in 13 career appearances, 10 of them starts. He has 49 strikeouts and 17 walks in 55 2/3 innings.
Pittsburgh could get a bullpen boost, too. Right-hander Keone Kela, the team's setup man who has been on the injured list since May 6 because of right shoulder inflammation, could be reinstated Monday.
--Field Level Media