Few preseason prognosticators would have thought the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals would go into a three-game series as April ends just a half-game apart in the National League Central.
Or that the Pirates would be sitting at .500 a month into a season that was supposed to be the start of a major rebuilding project. But there they are as they prepare to meet the Cardinals on Friday in Pittsburgh.
St. Louis has played one more game than the Pirates, and that was a 10-inning, 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday while Pittsburgh had the day off. Take that away, and both the Cardinals and Pirates would be 12-12.
And that’s after the Pirates started 1-6.
“Each team takes an identity,” first-year Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said. “They’re putting me and my staff in position to make decisions — in a very positive way.”
The Pirates have won four of their past six games. The Cardinals have won five of their past seven.
In the series opener Friday, St. Louis right-hander John Gant (1-2, 2.25 ERA) is scheduled to face Pittsburgh right-hander JT Brubaker (2-1, 2.01 ERA).
It’s a matchup of pitchers who found an interesting way to express an appreciation of baseball after their most recent outing.
For Brubaker, it was what he called “the art of pitching. … Just being able to mix, knowing when to go to stuff, just advancing my scouting and stuff like that.”
And that was after a loss. Brubaker had a solid outing — something he is making a habit of — but it didn’t quite match a performance by Minnesota’s J.A. Happ.
Brubaker gave up two runs, on solo homers among the five hits he yielded, in seven innings during a 2-0 loss to the Twins on April 23. He finished with five strikeouts and no walks. Happ, however, carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning.
Brubaker might consider pitching an art form, but he also does his homework.
“He did it last year, too, but he comes into the pregame meeting prepared,” Pittsburgh catcher Jacob Stallings said. “He’s got notes on every hitter — where he wants to attack them, what he wants to do. It’s usually right in sync with what (pitching coach Oscar Marin) and I and the staff kind of see as well.”
Brubaker has faced St. Louis once, throwing two scoreless innings in relief last July 26 in his major league debut.
Gant, meanwhile, is discovering a new chapter to his career. Mostly a reliever since the Cardinals acquired him in December 2016, he has transformed into a starter.
A more-than-willing starter.
“I love playing this game. I kind of lose myself in the contest every time I’m out there,” Gant said after he picked up a win Saturday against the Cincinnati Reds with six scoreless, three-hit innings. It was his first victory as a starter since Sept. 9, 2018, at Detroit.
“I love making starts. Getting a chance to go out there and pitch for a couple of hours rather than a couple of minutes .I’m just really digging it.”
Against Pittsburgh, Gant is 3-2 with a 4.30 ERA in 16 career appearances, four of them starts.
–Field Level Media