Milwaukee Brewers (64-66)
Braden Looper (11-6 4.88 ERA 85K)
St. Louis Cardinals (77-55)
Joel Piñeiro (13-9 3.11 ERA 84K)
No NL team has a better record since the beginning of July than the St. Louis Cardinals, who have won more than two-thirds of their games to build a seemingly insurmountable lead in the Central.
They’ve been especially tough to beat when Joel Pineiro’s been on the mound.
The Cardinals have won 10 in a row when Pineiro gets the ball, and the right-hander will look for an eighth straight victory Tuesday night when he faces the visiting Milwaukee Brewers.
St. Louis (77-55) has gone 36-17 since the end of June to build a comfortable cushion in the Central, and its incredible starting pitching has led the way.
Adam Wainwright(notes) and Chris Carpenter(notes) are 17-2 with a 1.60 ERA in 23 starts in the past two months, but Pineiro (13-9, 3.11) has been nearly as impressive as the two Cy Young Award contenders.
Pineiro is 7-0 with a 2.65 ERA in 10 starts, issuing six walks in 71 1-3 innings. He walked none for the 13th start this season Wednesday against Houston, yielding two runs over eight innings and allowing his newly developed sinker to help him earn a 3-2 win.
“I was attacking the strike zone, trying to make them put the ball on the ground,” Pineiro said. “I just keep telling myself, ‘Why did I wait eight years to learn a sinker like this?’”
It was Wainwright’s turn to pitch well Sunday against Washington. He gave up a run in six innings and struck out seven in a 2-1 win as the Cardinals closed August with a .769 winning percentage (20-6)—the best for that month in franchise history.
“We’ve got a lot of talented pitchers in this league, and on this team even,” Wainwright said after St. Louis moved to 29-4 in games he, Carpenter and Pineiro have started since July 1.
Pineiro began his current streak of victories against Milwaukee (64-66) on July 9. He allowed a run and three hits while pitching his third complete game in a 5-1 win at Miller Park.
He’s 2-0 with a 2.54 ERA in four career starts against the Brewers, shutting down Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder(notes), who are a combined 5 for 24 (.208) against Pineiro.
The Cardinals have held Braun and Fielder, who have more RBIs (214) than any tandem in the majors, in check all season but are 4-5 against the Brewers. Fielder is hitting .250 versus St. Louis with a homer and six RBIs, while Braun is batting .200 with one RBI.
Fielder and Braun went 0 for 8 on Sunday against Pittsburgh, but Casey McGehee(notes) homered to support six effective innings from Jeff Suppan(notes) in a 4-1 win.
Despite sweeping the Pirates, the Brewers finished 13-14 in August and are 12 games behind the Cardinals after holding a two-game lead in the division at the end of June.
“When you’re 12 out, with every game you’re kind of hanging on the cliff,” infielder Craig Counsell(notes) told the Brewers’ official Web site. “If we want a chance, obviously, we have to sweep.”
The Brewers are 9-3 at Busch Stadium over the past two years, and they’ll hand the ball to former Cardinal Braden Looper(notes) (11-6, 4.88) in the opener of this three-game series.
He gave up three runs - one earned - over six innings to win 8-4 in St. Louis on May 18.
Looper allowed two runs over six innings Wednesday at Cincinnati in a 4-3 loss in 10 innings.