Already owning the most dominant staff in the majors, St. Louis Cardinals pitchers have reached an even more impressive level this week.
John Lackey will try to help the Cardinals secure their longest single-season scoreless streak since at least 1912 and their most consecutive shutouts in one year since 1943 on Sunday against the Milwaukee Brewers.
St. Louis' 2.58 ERA easily outpaces the next-closest in the majors, Pittsburgh's 3.20, and is the lowest in the majors since Baltimore's 2.53 and Oakland's 2.58 in 1972. The Cardinals (71-39) have saved their best for a six-game road trip that ends Sunday, allowing six runs in five games and yielding none in the past 36 innings.
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St. Louis needs to add seven scoreless for their longest single-season streak since at least 1912. The Cardinals also posted their last set of four consecutive shutouts in one season in their 42-inning run July 6-11, 1943, and their latest string of four straight road shutouts in one season.
The last major league team to record four consecutive blankings away from home was the 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers. The 2012 San Francisco Giants were the last to pull off that feat in four straight overall games.
"It's a battle, especially when this pitching staff rolls in here against us," Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "From their bullpen to their starters, they're really good. They've got the best staff in baseball."
Jaime Garcia yielded two singles in a 3-0 win Saturday, and Lackey (9-7, 2.85 ERA) will try to complete the three-game sweep at Miller Park.
Lackey gave up three runs in six innings in a 3-2 loss in Cincinnati on Tuesday, ending a nine-game stretch in which he allowed two runs or fewer while pitching at least 6 2-3 innings.
He is 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA in two starts this season against Milwaukee (47-65) but gave up 10 hits and three runs in seven innings in his latest, a 7-4 win June 3. He allowed six runs in six innings in his only start at Miller Park on Sept. 5.
The Cardinals, winners in 19 of 25 in Milwaukee, will seek their first sweep of three games or longer there since winning four straight May 2-5, 2013.
They'll have to take on a pitcher who's on a superb run of his own, Jimmy Nelson (9-9, 3.57), who hasn't allowed an earned run in three consecutive starts (20 2-3 innings). The right-hander yielded one unearned in 6 2-3 innings in a 4-1 win over San Diego on Tuesday, improving to 6-1 with a 1.88 ERA in his last eight outings.
"It's really nice to throw a run together," Nelson told MLB's official website. "It's good for your mentality, too, not having all the ups and downs like a rollercoaster ride. Consistency gives everybody confidence."
Nelson has struggled mightily in three career starts against St. Louis, going 0-3 with a 10.05 ERA. He gave up seven runs in five innings in a 7-4 loss June 3 - his lone matchup this season.
Matt Carpenter, who had two singles in three at-bats against him in that game, is batting .395 with six homers and six doubles in his last 10 contests. He has at least one extra-base hit in eight of those games, including each of the last five.
Jean Segura is 6 for 11 lifetime against Lackey, who is seeking to reach double-digit wins for the 12th consecutive season. Adam Lind is 16 for 35 (.457) with six doubles, but has one hit in his last seven at-bats versus the right-hander.