As the calendar turns to September, the National League Central is shaping up to be a three-team race, and the Pirates and Cardinals will get the competition started right away with a three-game series at Busch Stadium.
With the Pirates and Brewers losing and the Cardinals winning on Sunday, St. Louis enters the series co-leading the NL Central with a two-game lead on Pittsburgh. But the Bucs took two of three from the Cardinals in Pittsburgh last week.
The Cardinals have dropped five of their last seven, while Pittsburgh has won seven of its last 10.
"Everybody is in striking distance, because you never know what kind of roll you can head off on," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. "We still see our best baseball ahead of us and believe the time is ripe for us. But we've also seen some not very good baseball from our club as well. We just have to limit those and stretch out those good runs."
The Cardinals are in the middle of a span of 18 straight games against division opponents, so now would certainly be an opportune time for them to make a run.
They'll start the series with Lance Lynn on the mound. Lynn has been one of the team's most consistent pitchers this season, and he has a 6-2 record and 1.85 ERA over his last 10 games. He shut down the Pirates on Aug. 26, throwing six innings of two-run ball.
The Pirates will counter with Gerrit Cole, who also went six innings and gave up two runs in his last start, which was against the Cardinals. In two starts since spending a month on the disabled list with a sore right lat, Cole has allowed only four runs on eight hits over 13 innings.
In his last start, he had a no-hitter going for 5 2/3 innings, but took 104 pitches to complete six innings.
"I kind of ran out of bullets there toward the end," Cole said. "I have to pound the zone a little better earlier. I made good, quality pitches late. But it goes to show why it's imperative to make quality pitches early."
Pirates: Polanco expected back Tuesday after Triple-A stint
Gregory Polanco will be back with the Pirates in St. Louis on Tuesday after spending a week in Triple-A.
So far, that week for Polanco hasn't been superb -- the touted prospect has gone 4-for-19 with four singles, two walks and three strikeouts in five games entering Sunday -- but he has been able to get consistent at-bats. And that's what the team wanted.
Polanco, who made his anticipated Major League debut on June 10, had just one hit in his last 30 at-bats and was benched for four games in favor of hot-hitting Travis Snider before the top prospect was sent down.
"After the four-day layoff where Travis was swinging the bat so well and deserved to continue to play, Gregory looked a little rough," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said Sunday. "... Most importantly, he's been out and competing. We look forward to getting him back. If we're going to play October baseball, Gregory Polanco is going to have a hand in that."
The 22-year-old is batting .241 with a .657 OPS in 64 Major League games this season.
Cardinals: No extra roster moves expected after Sunday flurry
On September 1, teams have the option of expanding their active rosters to 40 players, but the Cardinals aren't expected to make any immediate callups on Monday after a flurry of transactions on Sunday.
On the heels of a Saturday doubleheader, the Cardinals manipulated their 25-man roster in order to add a fresh arm to the bullpen and a body to the bench before additional reinforcements come later in the week.
The Cardinals optioned left-handers Tyler Lyons, Nick Greenwood and Marco Gonzales to Double-A Springfield on Sunday and used those roster spots to add lefty reliever Kevin Siegrist and infielder Pete Kozma.
The three optioned pitchers, none of whom would have been available on Sunday because of recent usage, will not actually report to Springfield, which has only two games remaining on its schedule. They are not, however, permitted to be at the ballpark until they are added back onto the Major League roster, which will happen on Tuesday.
• Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams is expected to be back in the lineup after sitting on Sunday. He had started 38 of 39 games since the All-Star break before getting the day off Sunday. He did come in to pinch-hit in the eighth inning of the Cardinals' 9-6 win, but struck out.
Caitlin Swieca is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.