Cardinals-Pirates Preview

The Associated Press

Facing the Pittsburgh Pirates has a way of making a starting rotation look good.

The St. Louis Cardinals don't seem to need the help.

Coming off another stellar pitching performance, the Cardinals send Jake Westbrook and his microscopic ERA to the hill Saturday night as they continue their weekend series in Pittsburgh.

The only team in the NL Central with a winning record, St. Louis (10-4) is already building a sizable lead atop the division, and starting pitching may be the biggest reason. Despite the fact ace Chris Carpenter is on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, the Cardinals' rotation sports a 2.87 ERA, and even that figure may be deceptively high. St. Louis starters have given up more than two runs only four times all April, and three of those outings were by Adam Wainwright - still finding his form after Tommy John surgery caused him to miss last season.

St. Louis starting pitchers other than Wainwright are 9-0 with a 1.52 ERA.

Those numbers improved in Friday night's series opener, as converted reliever Lance Lynn became the staff's first three-game winner by limiting the Pirates to one run - on an Alex Presley inside-the-park homer to lead off the game - and four hits in seven innings of a 4-1 victory.

For a staff compiling sparkling numbers, the Pittsburgh lineup may prove an easy foil all weekend. The Pirates' 27 runs scored are easily the fewest in the majors. They've scored two or fewer in nine of their 13 games, and Friday's four-hit effort lowered their team batting average to .201.

Jose Tabata followed Presley's first-inning homer with a single but Pittsburgh never put a runner in scoring position all game.

"You get an inside-the-park homer and drop a single to the next guy and we ended up with two more (hits) the rest of the night,'' Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "It was another strong outing for (Lynn). You have to take the barrel to him."

Now, the Pirates (5-8) must face the Cardinals starter with the lowest ERA of them all. Westbrook (2-0, 0.64 ERA) is bouncing back strong from an off year in 2011. The right-hander, who dropped 20 pounds in the offseason, has allowed one earned run and seven hits in 14 innings to win his first two starts.

Westbrook went seven strong innings in Sunday's 10-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs, recording 12 ground-ball outs and throwing first-pitch strikes to nine of the first 11 batters he faced.

"That's how I'm able to be successful, when I get ahead and control some counts,'' Westbrook said. "Just keeping the hitters on their toes.''

Westbrook is 0-3 with a 5.46 ERA in eight appearances - four starts - versus the Pirates, with all three losses coming at PNC Park.

He'll be opposed by Kevin Correia (1-0, 1.50), who's off to a strong start for the second straight season. The right-hander went 4-2 with a 2.90 ERA in April last year for Pittsburgh, but didn't post an ERA below four in any other month.

Correia earned his first win of the season Sunday, allowing one run and three hits in six innings of a 4-1 victory at San Francisco. He is 2-3 with a 3.86 ERA in 13 appearances - six starts - against St. Louis.

Cardinals utilityman Skip Schumaker, activated Friday when Lance Berkman went on the disabled list with a calf strain, left Friday's game after he got shaken up leaping for Presley's home run in center field. He said he expects to be available Saturday.

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