Pirates-Cardinals Preview

The Associated Press

The St. Louis Cardinals have a history of playing some of their best baseball in the season's final month.

With Matt Holliday locked in at the plate and Yadier Molina healthy, the team appears poised to make another surge to the playoffs.

Tied atop the NL Central for the first time in six weeks, the Cardinals open September against another team looking to make a postseason run when they host the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday.

By rallying from five runs down to beat the Chicago Cubs 9-6 on Sunday coupled with Milwaukee losing its fifth straight, St. Louis (73-63) moved into first place for the first time since July 20. The Cardinals haven't been alone atop the division yet this season.

"We still see our best baseball ahead of us and believe the time is ripe for us," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told MLB's official website.

Holliday and Molina enter September already playing at a high level.

Holliday is batting .370 with four home runs and 13 RBIs in his last seven games, while Molina, who returned Friday after missing seven weeks due to a torn thumb ligament, went 5 for 10 with a pair of RBIs in the last two contests.

Getting hot at this point of the season is nothing new for Holliday. The veteran outfielder hit .378 with four homers, six doubles and 23 RBIs last September. St. Louis went a league-best 19-8 last September to surge past the Pirates, who opened the month with a one-game lead, to win the division en route to the NL pennant.

Since 2011, the Cardinals are a major league-best 52-28 in September.

St. Louis dropped two of three at Pittsburgh last week, but is 5-2 against the Pirates at Busch Stadium this season. The Cardinals have won nine of the last 11 meetings there, and Holiday is batting .351 with six doubles and 13 RBIs in 16 home games against Pittsburgh since the start of 2013.

The Pirates (71-65) are also taking advantage of the Brewers' struggles, pulling within two games after sitting seven out on Aug. 19. Pittsburgh had a four-game win streak end with Sunday's 3-2 loss to Cincinnati.

Pitching has keyed Pittsburgh's run, as the staff has compiled a 1.67 ERA in its last six games.

Gerrit Cole (7-4, 3.65 ERA) has been solid since coming off the disabled list and he'll oppose Lance Lynn (14-8, 2.79) in a pitching rematch from last week.

In two starts since missing nearly six weeks with a sore lat, Cole has posted a 2.77 ERA with 15 strikeouts over 13 innings. He retired 12 straight in a 3-2 win over Atlanta on Aug. 20, and had a no-hitter broken up with two outs in the sixth inning in Tuesday's 5-2 win over the Cardinals. Cole, who ended up allowing two runs and three hits in seven-plus innings, didn't get a decision in either outing.

The right-hander is 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA in three career starts versus St. Louis.

Lynn pitched well against the Pirates last week, allowing two runs and six hits in six innings, though he didn't get a decision. He is 6-2 with a 1.85 ERA since the start of July, and could also play a big role in a possible playoff run. In 13 games - nine starts - the past two Septembers, the righty went 7-3 with a 2.44 ERA.

Andrew McCutchen is 4 for 32 with 12 strikeouts lifetime against Lynn, who is a victory away from joining Detroit's Max Scherzer as the only pitchers with 15 wins in each of the last three seasons. That .125 average is McCutchen's second-lowest for any of the 39 pitchers he's faced at least 20 times.

Holliday is 5 for 9 against Cole but Molina is 0 for 6.

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