The St. Louis Cardinals have yet to enjoy sole possession of first place in the National League Central this season, but will have a shot Monday when they host the first of three games against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cardinals have seemingly been in lock-step with co-division leader Milwaukee for over a month, trailing by no more than three games despite going 7-1 and 2-6 during two eight-game spans. However, St. Louis is surging again after Sunday's comeback win versus the Chicago Cubs.
The Cardinals, who rallied from an early five-run deficit for a 9-6 victory one day after posting a season-high 13 runs in the back half of a doubleheader, can thank Matt Holliday for their offensive resurgence after he accounted for three homers and nine RBIs in the back-to-back wins. Pittsburgh, which has split 16 meetings with St. Louis this season, has won each of its last three series - including taking two of three at home from the Cardinals last week. The Pirates saw their four-game winning streak snapped against Cincinnati on Sunday and trail St. Louis and Milwaukee by two games in both the division and for the second wild-card.
TV: 2:15 p.m. ET, ROOT (Pittsburgh), FSN Midwest (St. Louis)
PITCHING MATCHUP: Pirates RH Gerrit Cole (7-4, 3.65 ERA) vs. Cardinals RH Lance Lynn (14-8, 2.79)
Cole is expected to rejoin the team from Triple-A Indianapolis in time for the opener after settling for a no-decision in a 5-2 victory over St. Louis on Tuesday. The 23-year-old had a no-hitter going through 5 2/3 innings, but could only record one more out thereafter and was charged with two runs and three hits. Cole has made all three of his regular-season starts versus the Cardinals this season - going 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA - after going 1-1 against them in last year's NL Divisional Series.
Paired up against Cole for the second time in as many turns, Lynn also did not factor into the decision on Tuesday despite yielding two runs on six hits over six frames. The 2012 All-Star, who is bidding to join Detroit's Max Scherzer as the only pitchers with 15 wins in each of the last three seasons, is 6-2 with a 1.85 ERA since the start of July. Lynn is 1-1 in three turns versus the Pirates in 2014 and 5-3 with a 4.73 ERA in 14 all-time appearances (12 starts) against them.
1. St. Louis went a league-best 19-8 last September and was led by Holliday, who hit .378 with four homers, six doubles and 23 RBIs during the month.
2. Pittsburgh 2B Neil Walker leads all NL players at his position with 18 homers - a total that is one shy of Hall of Famer's Bill Mazeroski's 56-year-old single-season club-record mark for a second basemen.
3. Pirates CF Andrew McCutchen is 4-for-32 with 12 strikeouts in his career against Lynn.
PREDICTION: Cardinals 4, Pirates 3