After being stymied at the plate in their last contest, the St. Louis Cardinals should be eager to welcome one of the majors' top hitters back to the lineup.
Making his return from the disabled list, Yadier Molina tries to help the Cardinals move closer to the first-place Pittsburgh Pirates in Thursday's series finale at Busch Stadium.Out since July 30 with a sprained right knee, the All-Star catcher was activated on the first day he was eligible. Though Molina was mired in a 3-for-19 slump at the time of his injury, he's second in the NL with a .330 average.Molina hopes to get back on track and help St. Louis (68-51) cut into Pittsburgh's three-game lead in the Central."You have to give it your all every time because it's only a month and a half left," he said. "Every time you get a day off it's beautiful for your body but right now my team needs me and I'll be ready to go."Though manager Mike Matheny is glad to have one of his stars back, he plans to be cautious with Molina."We're going to be careful," Matheny said. "You just have to try to do the right thing."St. Louis pounded out 27 hits and scored 12 runs to win two straight before being held to four hits by Pittsburgh's Francisco Liriano in a 5-1 loss Wednesday.The victory snapped a season high-tying four-game skid for the Pirates (71-48), who won for the second time in nine road contests."It was important because every game counts, especially after (Tuesday's 4-3, 14-inning loss)," Liriano said. "It was a tough game last night and we had to put that one behind us and come ready to play."Even with Molina in the lineup, Pittsburgh could be in a good position to win behind A.J. Burnett (5-8, 2.95 ERA). The right-hander has allowed three runs, nine hits and struck out 23 in 20 innings while going 2-0 in three starts against the Cardinals this season.He yielded one of those runs and three hits while fanning nine in seven innings of a 2-1, 11-inning victory July 30.Burnett, however, has received an average 3.60 runs of support while he's 1-2 with a 2.60 ERA in his last seven starts overall. The Pirates scored three runs with him on the mound Saturday but he gave up five of his six in the sixth inning of a 6-4 loss at Colorado.St. Louis' pitcher Lance Lynn (13-6, 3.79) gave up a run and three hits while striking out seven in six innings in the one-run loss to Burnett and the Pirates last month.After yielding four runs and seven hits in five innings to still earn the win in a 10-6 victory at Pittsburgh on April 15, Lynn has allowed two and five hits over 13 innings to go 1-0 the next two against the Pirates.The right-hander was cruising until he gave up three runs in the seventh inning of a 3-0 home loss to the Chicago Cubs on Friday.Batting .459 during an 11-game hitting streak, St. Louis' Matt Holliday is 5 for his last 16 with a homer against Burnett.Pittsburgh's Pedro Alvarez is one shy of matching his career-high home run total after hitting his 29th on Wednesday. He's homered in two of the last three games overall, and has 11 in 46 career contests versus St. Louis.
There's a simple reason why Pittsburgh has the division lead over the Cardinals right now... St. Louis has won just 2 of the last 9 head-to-head meetings, and has no homers in those games while Pittsburgh has 12. The Cardinals ERA is also 4.38, compared to their division rivals, who are sporting a 2.47 ERA in that span.