After winning home stand, Pirates shift focus to division rival Cardinals

The Pittsburgh Pirates won four of six games of their last home stand against the Los Angeles Dodgers and Minnesota Twins and will now shift their focus to their division rival, the St. Louis Cardinals,
Los Angeles Dodgers v Pittsburgh Pirates
Los Angeles Dodgers v Pittsburgh Pirates / Justin K. Aller/GettyImages
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After taking four of six games from the Los Angeles Dodgers and Minnesota Twins, there is some slightly reinvigorated life surrounding the Pittsburgh Pirates as they enter this week with a 31-34 record.

While its still early in the month of June, the Pirates have played some strong baseball this month, especially offensively, averaging 5.25 runs per game. The starting pitching has still been strong, and the bullpen has been better after struggling for much of the season.

That being said, despite the 31-34 record, the Pirates still find themselves fifth, technically, in the NL Central, 7.5 games back of the Milwaukee Brewers. Thanks to MLB's recent playoff evolutions, though, they are just one game back of the Wild Card as the San Francisco Giants, with a 33-34 record, are currently the third Wild Card team.

Notably, there are six teams all within two games of the final Wild Card spot, and four of them are from the NL Central. Yes, that's correct, as of June 11, 2024, all five NL Central teams are either in the playoffs or within two games of a playoff spot, which could create an exciting race as the calendar guides us through the summer, past the trade deadline, and into the final two months of the regular season.

One of those teams ahead of the Pirates is, of course, the St. Louis Cardinals, who the Pirates will now get to an opportunity to jump in the standings this week.

The Cardinals enter this week with a 31-33 record, a half-game back of the final NL Wild Card spot and seven games back of the Milwaukee Brewers. It's currently a three-way tie for second place in the Central; the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds are tied with the Cardinals in the games back category at seven. All three are just half-game up on the Pirates.

The Cardinals are 4-6 in their last 10 games, losing a pair of series to the Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros before splitting a four-game series in Colorado over the weekend.

The Cardinals offense has been one of the worst in the National League, with the only hitting stat in which they're not ranked in the bottom five being strikeouts with 540, good enough for eighth-best in the league. Their pitching, on the other hand, has been mostly solid, but by no means great.

That being said, Tuesday also marks just 50 days until the MLB Trade Deadline, slightly raising the stakes of each game from this point on. Over the next 50 days, the pretenders and contenders will be sorted out, and we should slowly get a better idea of which organizations will find themselves being buyers at the deadline and which will be heading down the opposite path and selling.

While the Pirates are unlikely to be major players at the trade deadline in either direction, if they do buy, it will be marginal, around-the-edges-type acquisitions. The Cardinals, on the other hand, have plenty of big names that they could potentially offload in a selling situation, and do have some firepower to go out and acquire quality additions if they choose to be buyers.

With all of those implications in mind, this week's series between the Pirates and Cardinals will begin this important 50-day stretch for both teams.

Let's take a look at this week's pitching matchups.