The Cardinals and Pirates will open an important midseason series on Monday night, with both teams looking to gain some separation from the middle of the pack in the National League Central.
The Pirates are currently 4 1/2 games behind the first-place Brewers, with the Cardinals breathing down their necks, only a half-game behind them. Cincinnati isn't far behind, only a game behind St. Louis. This week's four-game series at Busch Stadium could potentially vault the Bucs or Redbirds into second place with some breathing room.
Home runs are likely to be tough to come by on Monday, as two of baseball's best pitchers at preventing dingers will face off. Since the beginning of the 2011 season, Pirates starter Charlie Morton has allowed 0.47 home runs per nine innings, the best in the Major Leagues. Cardinals righty Adam Wainwright is third over that span, allowing 0.54 home runs per nine.
Morton will be looking to carry over momentum from his last start, when he snapped a two-game skid by holding Arizona to one run over six innings.
The sinkerballer has been pretty sharp in his last two starts, as he struck out a career-best 11 two starts ago against the Rays, only to be outmatched by David Price. Morton started his season with six straight losses, but has bettered his record to 5-9.
"That's the nature of the game. You might not pitch well, and the results might be good -- and vice versa. That was tonight," Morton said after his last start. "Yeah, it's nice that we're winning. I can come in here not satisfied with my outing -- which I'm not -- but it's great that we won and I got credit for the win. It was serviceable."
Wainwright has been more consistent this year -- the most consistent pitcher in a St. Louis rotation that's been ravaged by injuries. He became the National League's first 11-game winner in his stellar last start against San Francisco. He pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing only four hits as he lowered his season ERA to 1.89.
Wainwright's win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Cards, and they'll look to him Monday after two straight losses to the Marlins.
"This isn't the first time that he has righted the ship when we're going through a rough patch, and it won't be the last," said Matt Carpenter of Wainwright after the ace's win. "He's the guy we call on when we need a jolt, and he answered the bell today."
Pirates: Barmes to DL with strained left groin
Clint Barmes was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left groin strain on Sunday, and the Pirates called up infielder Michael Martinez from Triple-A Indianapolis to take his spot on the 25-man roster.
Barmes, 35, has played in 42 games for the Bucs this season, often appearing as a defensive substitute. The injury is likely to sideline him for a month to six weeks. At the plate in his third season with the Pirates, Barmes has a slash line of .239/.320/.284 in 88 at-bats.
Martinez was promoted for his defensive flexibility, as he can play shortstop, second and third base and center field. Barmes' injury will also mean more time in the infield for utilityman Josh Harrison.
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said the team would prefer to stay within the franchise to fill Barmes' void, and he mentioned Triple-A infielder Robert Andino and newly signed Dean Anna (also in Triple-A) as other potential players who could join the big league club at some point.
"You always hope the internal option is the best option, but we wouldn't be doing our jobs if we didn't look for external options," Huntington said. "Josh will get more time at short. He was probably going to get time at short anyway; he'll get more time now. Martinez will take Barmes' role as that versatile defender off the bench."
Cardinals: Molina getting back on track
After struggling through much of June, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina has picked it up in the early goings of July. Molina was batting .205 in June before the month's final day, but is 10-for-23 in his last seven games. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny cited bad luck as the reason for Molina's drought.
"He was trying to fix hitting the ball hard at people, and that's a hard thing to fix," Matheny said. "He puts so much pressure on himself to be everything to this team, and now he's going up there with the same style of at-bats, and we're seeing balls falling for him."
• The Pirates earned their first sweep of the season against the Phillies with a 4-2 win on Sunday. Before that, the Bucs were 0-8 in games that would have completed a sweep.
• Monday's game against the Cardinals will be the Pirates' first contest against an opponent with a record above .500 since they played the Marlins on June 13.
Caitlin Swieca is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.