Same setting, similar scenario.
The Cardinals enter Friday's series opener in Pittsburgh with a slim one-game lead in the National League Central. They arrived in the Steel City in late July with a 1 1/2-game lead in the division. Five games and four days later, St. Louis left town with a 1 1/2-game deficit.
The Cardinals lost the first four contests of that series in Pittsburgh before breaking out with a 13-0 win in the finale. They followed that up with another 13-run effort and a 15-run output in their ensuing series in Cincinnati.
"If you have an offense like the one we have here, it's great," said outfielder Carlos Beltran. "As a player, you don't feel like you have to do anything special in order to make it happen, you just have to do your job."
Though they didn't score in Wednesday's loss to the Reds, the Cardinals' offense has helped them get to 23 games above the .500 mark with nine wins in their last 12 games.
Second baseman Matt Carpenter leads the Majors with 100 runs scored and 51 multihit games, and leads the NL with 43 doubles. Allen Craig leads the Majors in average with runners in scoring position. Craig, Carpenter, Beltran and catcher Yadier Molina all rank in the top eight in the NL in batting average.
"Right now, with Carpenter just having the year that he's having, I'm hitting second and I'm getting on base, Matt Holliday hitting third, getting hot … Craig being able to do it all year round, being able to drive in that many runs, it feels great," Beltran said. "And Yadier Molina, you know, leading the league in hitting. It doesn't get better than that."
It could get better for the Cardinals, though, if they can solve Pirates southpaw Francisco Liriano, who is slated to take the hill opposite Cards righty Shelby Miller on Friday at PNC Park.
Liriano (14-6, 2.74 ERA) is coming off his second-shortest outing of the season, lasting just four innings and allowing four earned runs on nine hits in a 6-3 loss to the Giants on Saturday.
But the last time the left-hander had a rough game (2 1/3 innings, 12 hits, 10 runs against the Rockies on Aug. 9), he followed it up with a complete-game gem against the Cardinals on Aug. 14 at Busch Stadium. Liriano also faced St. Louis in late July and limited it to one run on four hits over seven innings of a 9-2 win.
The Pirates acquired outfielder Marlon Byrd and catcher John Buck this week in a trade with the Mets, and Buck says this weekend's series against the Cardinals is a chance for each of them to prove their worth to Pittsburgh this season.
"As I was driving down yesterday with Marlon [after the trade], this is the series we were talking about," Buck said. "It's one of the reasons they picked us up. So we're really looking forward to it."
Miller (12-8, 2.90 ERA) will look for his first win against the Bucs. The 22-year-old kept the Braves, who boast baseball's best record, to one run on three hits over seven frames in his last outing.
Cardinals: Molina expected back
Though Molina sat Wednesday's finale against Cincinnati, the Cardinals plan to have him back in the lineup on Friday. He received Wednesday off to pair with Thursday's off-day.
Molina has caught the second most innings (905) in the Majors, despite spending time on the disabled list. Only Baltimore's Matt Wieters has crouched behind the plate more this season.
Molina leads the NL with a .333 batting average after Wednesday's play.
• The Cardinals recalled reliever Michael Blazek from Triple-A on Wednesday and called on him right away, as he threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings against the Reds.
Pirates: Team sends down duo
Pittsburgh optioned All-Star lefty Jeff Locke and rookie catcher Tony Sanchez to Double-A Altoona on Wednesday. The club wanted Locke (9-4, 3.22 ERA) to catch his breath.
The 25-year-old has posted a 12.71 ERA over his last three starts.
"This move allows us to give Jeff Locke a short break," general manager Neal Huntington said. "It also allows Tony Sanchez to get back to the Major Leagues as soon as the rules permit us to do so. In addition, this gives us the opportunity to maintain a full roster until both Jeff and Tony can return to the club on Sept. 3. That is when the Double-A season is over and when the club intends to recall both players."
• Garrett Jones should be back in the lineup Friday after Pirates manager Clint Hurdle gave him a couple days off to try and shake him out of a 1-for-29 slump.
"I'm hoping to get back in the lineup soon," said Jones after Thursday's 4-0 loss to the Brewers. "Clint just gave me a chance to work on some things. Understandable; I haven't been getting hits on a consistent basis. So gave me a little mental breather, and I'm itching to get back in the lineup and do what I can to help the team."
Jones is hitting .235 with 12 home runs and 43 RBIs this season.
"Just giving him some extra time to reboot," Hurdle said. "You've seen the at-bats."
• Andrew McCutchen enters Friday with nine multihit games in his last 12 at PNC Park. McCutchen is 21-for-41 in that stretch.
• Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright allowed a career-high nine earned runs in his start on Wednesday.
• Holliday's streak of seven consecutive games with an RBI came to an end on Wednesday. The streak was the second longest in the league this season.
• With Thursday's loss to the Brewers, the Pirates are 12-14 in August with two games to go entering Friday. Pittsburgh has not had a winning month of August since 2007.