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STL@ATL: Wainwright racks up eight Ks over seven

When the Cardinals opened the series against the Pirates on Monday, they clung to a 1 1/2-game lead in the National League Central. Heading into the fourth game of the five-game set on Wednesday, it's Pittsburgh that holds an advantage of 1 1/2 games after winning four straight, including both games of Tuesday's doubleheader.

Before Tuesday the Cardinals had either been in first or tied for first since July 7. But manager Mike Matheny has known all along that there are three teams that could potentially take over the division race, and losing the top spot with almost 60 games to go is not a reason to panic.

"We don't undervalue any team or look over anybody. We know anybody can be in the middle of this thing if they click," Matheny said. "As far as Pittsburgh goes, it's no surprise to us. I think more people are surprised than we are. We know they're a good team, that they've been a good team."

More concerning for Matheny and the Cardinals is that they bring a season-high six-game losing streak into Wednesday's game. Fortunately, they'll have Adam Wainwright on the mound, looking for his NL-best 14th win. He also leads the league in innings pitched, with 161 2/3, and the Cards hope he can deliver another long outing after burning through six relievers on Tuesday.

Wainwright enters the contest with a 2.51 ERA, having most recently given up three earned runs on seven hits in seven innings against the Braves on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Pirates will be searching for their ninth win in their last 12 games behind the left arm of Jeff Locke. In 20 starts this season, Locke has given up three runs or fewer 18 times, including his last 17 outings.

Locke struggled with command and tied a season high by giving up eight hits to the Marlins on Friday, but Miami manager Mike Redmond said that Locke might have been the best lefty he's seen this season. Locke also set a season high, with nine strikeouts, while allowing just two runs, and he'll look to put it all together in a crucial start on Wednesday.

Pirates: Sanchez makes Major League catching debut
Tony Sanchez made his first appearance as a big leaguer last month as a designated hitter, and he was behind a Major League plate for the first time in Game 2 of Tuesday's twin bill.

Sanchez, who caught former Triple-A teammate Brandon Cumpton, went 0-for-3, but he did drive in a run, on a sacrifice fly, in the 6-0 win. Before the game, manager Clint Hurdle said that the Pirates were looking forward to seeing their No. 12 prospect.

"It'll be an exciting day -- a good opportunity for him," Hurdle said. "Everyone in the organization has been looking forward to this."

Cardinals: Molina to have MRI on sprained knee
After sitting out Game 1 of Tuesday's doubleheader, catcher Yadier Molina left Game 2 in the fourth inning with a sprained right knee. Molina first appeared to be in discomfort in the second inning after not attempting to throw out a runner at second and allowing a passed ball.

An MRI is planned for Wednesday, and a stint on the disabled list is likely.

St. Louis has kept three catchers on the roster since Molina sat out three games before the All-Star break with inflammation in the knee. No structural damage was found, but Molina has had the knee surgically repaired in the past.

Molina has caught more innings than any catcher in baseball and has been crucial to the team's success, both at the plate and behind it.

Worth noting
• Including the shutout in Game 1 on Tuesday, the Cardinals have gone scoreless in two of their last six games -- all losses. They combined for just six runs in the other four.

• The Pirates enter Wednesday with a 6-2 record against the Cardinals this season, including 4-1 at PNC Park.

• Pittsburgh has outscored its opponents, 48-29, in the last 10 games. Comments