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The Strike Zone

Pirates tie up NL Central again as Cardinals fall to Brewers

Jeff Locke held the Cubs to three hits and a walk over seven innings of one-run ball.Jeff Locke held the Cubs to three hits and a walk over seven innings of one-run ball. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

How quickly things change in a pennant race. Here's what I wrote about the Pirates' outlook Monday morning with two weeks left in the season:

On Friday, I wrote that the pressure heading into the weekend series against the Cardinals was squarely on the Pirates, and their inability to win even one game in that set may have cost them the division. While St. Louis welcomes the Brewers this week, the Bucs have to travel to Texas to face the Rangers, making it very likely that the Cardinals’ lead will be larger by Thursday morning. Pittsburgh has gone 0-4 since winning its 81st game last Tuesday and has been outscored 35-13 in those games. The Pirates will get that elusive 82nd win eventually, but if it takes much longer, their chances of a division title could be dashed.

Well, the Pirates not only won that 82nd game on Monday, erasing the half game in their 1 1/2 game deficit to the idle division-leading Cardinals, they swept the struggling Rangers, who are 2-8 over their last ten games heading into their final series against the division-leading A's this weekend. The Pirates then returned home and beat the Cubs 3-1 on Thursday night behind the rejuvenated Jeff Locke, who held the Cubs to three hits and a walk over seven innings of one-run ball. Locke was helped out by fielding plays like this one from Andrew McCutchen, which was the first out of the seventh in what was then a one-run game:

[mlbvideo id="30553239" width="600" height="360" /]

As a result of that four-game winning streak and the Cardinals' subsequent 5-2 loss to the Brewers and rookie Tyler Thornburg (6 IP, 2 R) Thursday night, the Pirates are once again tied for first place in the National League Central as they and the Cardinals now have identical 85-61 records.

The Pirates still have to face the Reds six times in their final nine games, but they could build up a lead against the Cubs and Padres over the next seven days if they stay hot and the Cardinals, who had won five straight prior to Thursday night, cool off. Stay tuned.

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