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Cards, Pirates battle for NL Central supremacy in the Steel City

9:56 AM, Aug 30, 2013   |    comments
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(Sports Network) - The last time the St. Louis Cardinals visited Pittsburgh, they arrived in first place but ended up leaving town trailing the Pirates in the NL Central.

The Cardinals are again set to visit their rivals with a division lead at stake and hope to get off on a better foot Friday night in the opener of a three-game series versus the Pirates.

St. Louis is clinging to a one-game lead over Pittsburgh for first place in the division, with the Cincinnati Reds 3 1/2 games off the pace. It is similar to when the Cardinals last visited the Pirates, a five-game series that began in late July.

The Pirates took the first four games of that set, including a sweep of a doubleheader on July 30, before getting routed 13-0 in the finale on Aug. 1. Still, Pittsburgh turned a 1 1/2-game deficit into a 1 1/2-game lead for first place.

However, the Pirates have lost four of five and 12 of their last 19, a span that includes losing two of three in St. Louis from Aug. 13-15. The Cardinals have countered by winning 12 of their last 17.

St. Louis began a stretch of 13 straight against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh by winning two of three over the Reds. The Cardinals lost Wednesday's finale 10-0, but the Pirates failed to take advantage on Thursday by losing a 4-0 decision to Milwaukee in the rubber match of a three-game set.

The Pirates look to grab the early advantage in this series behind Francisco Liriano, who has won both of his starts versus the Cardinals this year. That includes a one-run complete game in St. Louis on Aug. 14.

The left-hander is 3-2 in five starts this month, allowing one run over 23 innings in the three victories. However, Liriano has yielded 14 runs and 21 hits in the two setbacks and is coming off a 6-3 loss at San Francisco on Saturday. He was charged with four runs on nine hits and two walks over four innings.

"Inconsistent command. At the end of the day, that's what it was," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said about Liriano.

The 29-year-old Liriano is 14-6 with a 2.74 earned run average in 20 starts this season, matching his season high for wins in a season set in 2010 with Minnesota. The first-year Buc is 7-3 with a 1.88 ERA in 10 starts this season versus the NL Central.

Countering for the Cardinals is 22-year-old Shelby Miller, who is winless in three starts against the Pirates this season. He has posted a 4.08 ERA in losing all three outings.

He has been solid versus the rest of the league, going 12-8 with a 2.90 ERA in 25 starts this year. Miller won for the first time in four starts on Saturday with a 6-2 decision over Atlanta, giving up just one run and three hits over seven innings while striking out six without a walk.

"My main goal tonight was to just keep my focus the entire game and just attack the zone," said Miller. "That's kind of what I've been lacking a little bit."

Since July, the righty has not allowed more than three earned runs in an outing.

The Pirates are 8-5 versus the Cardinals this season.

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