Pirates push Cards out of first

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

The Pirates swept the doubleheader vs the Cardinals Tuesday and currently have baseball’s best record.For the first time in 21 years, the Pittsburgh Pirates are leading their division on July 30.

The Pirates swept a doubleheader Tuesday against the St. Louis Cardinals to move into the division lead. It was the first time since 1996 that the Cardinals were swept in a doubleheader, snapping a streak of 22 doubleheaders played without being swept. That was the longest active streak in MLB, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The Pirates eight of their last 11 games while the Cardinals have lost six straight, their longest losing streak since 2011.

What has gone right for the Pirates

Whether it’s rotation veterans like A.J. Burnett in Game 1 or rookie call-ups like Brandon Cumpton in Game 2, the Pirates continue to win on the strength of their run prevention. Their 3.02 team ERA and 3.16 starters ERA both lead MLB.

Cumpton, who pitched seven scoreless innings of three-hit ball, was the ninth Pirates starter to win a game this season. That’s tied with the Cardinals for most in the National League.

The key for Cumpton was his ability to pound the zone and get quick outs. He threw 75 percent strikes, the third highest percentage by any starter vs the Cardinals this season. More than half of the outs Cumpton recorded came on three pitches or fewer.

What has gone wrong for the Cardinals

Simply put, the Cardinals haven’t hit. They’ve been outscored 28-6 during the six-game losing streak. They’ve been held to two or fewer runs in all six games, their longest such streak since 1992 and tied for the longest streak by any team this season.

This is a team that prior to the losing streak was leading the National League with five runs per game and a .754 OPS.

One area, in particular, in which the Cardinals have struggled is situational hitting. They’re hitting only .182 with runners in scoring position during the losing streak, including a 1-for-15 (.067) performance in Tuesday’s doubleheader. Prior to the losing streak, the Cardinals were hitting .340 with RISP; no other team in MLB was above .290.

Yadier Molina’s impact

It could get worse for the Cardinals, as Yadier Molina left Tuesday night’s game with a sprained right knee. Molina will return to St. Louis for further evaluation and said he expects to land on the disabled list.

Most Wins Above Replacement
Catchers, Last 2 Seasons

Molina was in the midst of perhaps the best offensive season of his career. His .374 on-base percentage is a career high and ranks fourth among all players whose primary position is catcher this season. Molina has also saved five runs defensively, which ranks fourth among catchers.

Needless to say, the Cardinals will miss him in the lineup. They’re 132-94 when Molina starts the last two seasons and 18-21 when he doesn’t. Molina’s 10.9 Wins Above Replacement ranks second to only Buster Posey among catchers the last two seasons.

But has Molina worn down? He’s has caught 805 innings this season, more than any player in baseball and on pace for a career high.