Home field has been a major advantage in recent meetings between the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Cardinals continued to enjoy a decisive advantage at Busch Stadium in their latest series opener.
Gerrit Cole looks to disrupt that trend - and become the majors' first 15-game winner - when he starts Wednesday night opposite another elite pitcher in Michael Wacha.
St. Louis (72-40) extended its NL Central lead to six games with a 4-3 victory Tuesday, going ahead with a three-run fifth. Jason Heyward was 2 for 4 with two RBIs and is batting .370 over his last 13 games.
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The Cardinals, who can move 33 games above .500 for the first time since finishing 100-62 in 2005, have won seven straight meetings at Busch Stadium - including all four this season in come-from-behind fashion - and 16 of 18 there. The Pirates have won 13 of 19 matchups at PNC Park in the same span, including five of the last six this year.
Andrew McCutchen entered the series hitting .429 with 13 RBIs in his last 10 overall, but remained cold in St. Louis, going 0 for 4 with two strikeouts to drop his average to .107 over his last six trips there.
Pittsburgh (65-45), which had scored six or more runs four times in its last six home games against the Cardinals, has seven runs over its last five at Busch Stadium, going 4 for 39 with runners in scoring position.
"Carlos did what our pitching's known for," Kolten Wong said of Carlos Martinez, who struck out eight in eight innings Tuesday. "We're facing some good pitching on that side and they're going to face our best pitching. It's exciting."
Offense figures to come at a premium again for both teams with Cole (14-5, 2.39 ERA) taking on Wacha (13-4, 2.92). Cole, tied with Seattle's Felix Hernandez for baseball's most victories, can join teammates A.J. Burnett (2012) and Francisco Liriano (2013) as the only Pirates to win 15 games over the last 16 seasons.
He's 1-2 in four outings since the All-Star break, though the Pirates' offense may be more to blame than Cole himself. The right-hander has averaged 2.8 runs of support in his last four compared to 4.8 previously. Meanwhile, his WHIP is actually better in that span at 1.04, down from 1.12.
Nonetheless, both he and battery mate Chris Stewart were critical of his last performance Friday when he gave up three runs, four hits and three walks over six innings in Pittsburgh's 5-4 victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"He was hit-and-miss," Stewart told MLB's official website. "With a couple of hitters, it just seemed like he lost it. He didn't really have a good feel for his control, and he admitted it out there."
Cole is 2-2 with a 3.24 ERA in five matchups with St. Louis, winning 5-2 July 10 when he allowed two runs on a Matt Carpenter homer over seven innings.
This is his first matchup with Wacha, who seeks a third straight victory after 14 scoreless innings against Colorado and Cincinnati. He's held opponents to a .189 average in his last four games.
Wacha is 2-0 with a 1.82 ERA in four starts against the Pirates, winning an 8-5 final at PNC Park on May 8 when he allowed two earned runs over six innings.
McCutchen is 5 for 12 against Wacha, who has logged five consecutive quality starts at home.