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STL@CHC: Wainwright allows one run over six frames

Since their first game of the season against the Marlins, the Cardinals have faced a National League Central opponent in every series, a trend that will continue when they square off against the Pirates on Tuesday.

The teams already met earlier in the season, and the Cardinals held Pittsburgh to just four runs while taking two of three games. Both teams have been strong in the pitching department through the first month of the season, while St. Louis has also put up runs -- something the Pirates have struggled to do.

St. Louis is tied for the most runs scored in the NL and has allowed the second fewest, giving the Cardinals the best run differential in the league -- a combination that is going to help the club win often.

But the Cardinals know better than to take any team lightly, especially one that is getting a number of quality outings from its pitchers, too.

"This Pittsburgh team has had a lot of tough games," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "Most of their games have been very close, and they've had a lot of one-run games. You can see they just play hard."

The Pirates will be sending out the same three starters that faced the Cardinals during the first meeting between these two clubs -- Charlie Morton, A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard -- and will be hoping for similar results. The trio was effective against St. Louis, especially Burnett -- who dazzled in his season debut -- but the pitchers will need the offense to pick them up this time.

Morton, who is 1-1 with a 2.65 ERA, picked up his first victory in his last start and pitched more than five innings for the first time this season.

"He has been counter-punching good," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "These guys know, based on video they see, what he's been doing. So he has been running the four-seam cutter in, then backing it up with his breaking ball. And his breaking ball has been very effective."

Morton will throw the first game of the series and will be opposed by Adam Wainwright, who has had mixed results in his return from Tommy John surgery. Wainwright struck out a season-high seven batters while allowing just one run in his last start, but is 0-3 with a 7.32 ERA for the first-place Cardinals.

Cardinals: Craig nearing return
There is a chance the Cardinals will activate Allen Craig, who started the year on the disabled list after undergoing offseason knee surgery, before Tuesday's game. Craig played in his seventh rehab game Monday with Triple-A Memphis, the second time he's played in the field. He has plenty of power, exhibited by his first-inning home run Monday, but where he will end up in the batting order remains to be seen.

"We'll have to look at how everybody else is doing at that point," Matheny said. "We've got some guys swinging the bat really good in the middle of the lineup. It'll work itself out, wherever it is. We've been looking forward to getting him back since we started talking about it."

Craig made a name for himself in last season's postseason but also had a productive regular season, finishing 2011 with a .917 OPS and 11 homers in 75 games.

Pirates: Rotation off to hot start
Morton, Burnett and Bedard all have ERAs under 3.00, but are a combined 3-6. Morton is building off a solid 2011 season in Pittsburgh, while Burnett and Bedard have proved to be strong offseason acquisitions. Bedard leads the team with 26 strikeouts and Burnett is averaging 10.38 strikeouts per nine innings -- tops among all starters.

"We talked about what we'll see from the two guys we were adding, and it has come into play. It definitely helps," Hurdle said when asked about their strikeout ability. "Over time, it wears down an offense. It frustrates hitters. Nobody likes to swing and miss, and it keeps you away from situations where productive outs can manufacture runs.

"Strikeouts and pop flies are the easiest outs recorded in baseball. No plays need to be made."

Worth noting
While the Pirates have won 10 of 13 games this season when scoring more than one run, the Cardinals' pitching staff has limited opposing lineups and sports the second-lowest team ERA in the Majors at 2.61. Comments