MLB

Cardinals to launch second-half pursuit of 2017 'opportunity'

PITTSBURGH -- The St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates begin the unofficial second half of the season in the same boat.

Going into their weekend series, starting Friday at PNC Park, the Cardinals (43-45) and Pirates (42-47) are not dead in the water despite being below .500.

St. Louis is tied for second in the National League Central, 5 1/2 games behind Milwaukee. Pittsburgh is fourth, seven games out. A strong run by either might allow them to catch the Brewers.

Neither has shown a propensity for such an outburst of wins on a sustained basis, though. In fact, both clubs appear to be wavering between being buyers or sellers at the non-waiver trade deadline at the end of the month.

Still, both teams are hoping to pick up where they left off before the All-Star break.

St. Louis dominated the New York Mets 6-0 Sunday. In its past four series, it has won three and tied one.

"What I see is opportunity," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told mlb.com. "This could be one of the greatest seasons of any of those guys' careers because of how much we've been written off. That, to me, is such an exciting thought about us putting something together and pushing hard and remembering all the things we've already gone through in half a season."

Pittsburgh clobbered the Cubs 14-3 Sunday and won five of six games going into the break.

"We have room for improvement," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "However, we have the men internally here to make that happen."

Whether it will be the same roster of men next month remains to be seen.

"It will be interesting to see how we do coming out of the break," reliever Daniel Hudson told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "I think the days off will help us reset and, hopefully, put a good run together so we can keep (the team) intact."

After St. Louis, Pittsburgh hosts Milwaukee for four games. That seems like a well-set table for the Pirates, but center fielder Andrew McCutchen -- whose name has been tossed around as a trade possibility since last year -- is watching the win column more than the list of opponents.

"Every game is important. It doesn't matter who it is or if it's someone in our division or not. Every game matters," he told the Tribune-Review. "We could sweep everyone in our division and lose the next 10 against people who aren't in our division, so it really doesn't matter. What matters is winning. Regardless of who we're playing, we've got to go out and try to win the ballgame."

Friday, the Pirates will do that with Gerrit Cole (7-7, 4.43 ERA) on the mound. He gave up one run and five hits over six innings in a 7-3 win against the Cardinals on June 24, one of his four wins in his past five starts. On April 13, Cole gave up six hits and two runs in six innings in a 2-1 loss to the Cardinals.

Cole is 6-4 with a 2.72 ERA in 12 career starts aganst the Cardinals.

St. Louis, which opens a 10-game road trip, counters with Mike Leake (6-7, 3.12 ERA), who likewise has had a couple of good games against Pittsburgh -- 1-0 in two quality starts.

He is 10-5 with a 3.33 ERA in 30 career starts against Pittsburgh.

However, Leake's last start before the break was one his worst. He gave up eight runs (five were unearned) and nine hits in 3 2/3 innings July 5 in a 9-6 loss to Miami.