Pirates-Cardinals Preview

While Pittsburgh's Gerrit Cole is eager to pitch following one of his worst efforts, St. Louis' John Lackey is looking forward to extending his dominance at Busch Stadium.

In a matchup between two stingy right-handers, the Pirates aim to trim their deficit in the NL Central on Sunday night by dealing the Cardinals their first home series loss in five weeks.

Cole got into the film room to dissect what went wrong Tuesday after allowing a career high-tying five runs and eight hits over a career low-matching four innings in a 7-4 loss at Milwaukee.

Since emerging as a NL Cy Young Award candidate by going 14-4 with a 2.24 ERA over his first 20 starts, he's 1-4 with a 3.92 mark while getting 13 runs of support in his past seven.

"I looked (at tape of the last outing) and I don't have all the answers," Cole told MLB's official website. "The stuff was kinda flat, not very crisp, and poor execution as well."

Now Cole (15-8, 2.64 ERA) won't have an opportune matchup as he looks to bounce back in the finale of this pivotal three-game series with the MLB-best Cardinals (87-48). He's 0-3 with a 4.34 ERA lifetime at Busch Stadium after giving four runs over 5 1-3 innings in a 4-2 loss there Aug. 12.

Jhonny Peralta has gone 4 for 6 with a double versus Cole this season, while Matt Carpenter is 5 for 16 with two homers lifetime off him. Yadier Molina, though, is 2 for 15.

Carpenter went 2 for 3 with a two-run homer in the seventh inning to key Saturday's 4-1 win that evened this series and pushed their lead to 6 1/2 games in the division race.

"If we can win (Sunday) and come out of this deal up 7 1/2 with 26 games left, that's important. At the same time, we can't look ahead," Carpenter said.

Stephen Piscotty had an RBI infield single in the second inning to extend his career-best hitting streak to 12 games, while Brandon Moss stretched his run to nine.

The Cardinals, who avoided their first three-game skid since July 10-12 at Pittsburgh, hope to avert their first home series loss since dropping two of three to Cincinnati from July 27-29.

They appear to be in good hands with Lackey on the rubber. The right-hander has held opponents to two runs or less in 12 of his last 15 starts, going 7-4 with a 2.25 ERA over that span.

Lackey (11-8, 2.87) been even better at Busch with the fifth-best home ERA in the majors at 1.89 over 14 quality starts. He lasted six innings for a 15th straight outing Monday, but did not get a decision after yielding one earned run and walking four in an 8-5 home win over Washington.

Lackey has been very good against the Pirates, going 1-0 with a 1.37 ERA in his last three starts. He's given up one run while lasting at least six innings in his two meetings this season.

Aramis Ramirez is just 1 for 12 off him, though Francisco Cervelli has gone 4 for 8 and Gregory Polanco is 3 for 6. Sean Rodriguez has gone 5 for 6 with two doubles in this series.

Pittsburgh (80-54), which had its wild-card lead over the Chicago Cubs cut to three games, has batted .233 with 54 strikeouts while dropping five of six. The club also has lost 19 of 24 road meetings since last winning a series at St. Louis in April 2013.

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