It's been a bumpy second half for Pittsburgh, a six-week stretch of games that has seen the Pirates go 18-25 and lose their grip on a winning record. Pittsburgh trailed St. Louis by a game at the All-Star break, but it has gone on to win just four of its last 12 series.
St. Louis, meanwhile, has run into trouble of its own. The Cardinals have dropped seven of their last nine games, a skid that includes a losing series in Pittsburgh last week. St. Louis has dropped four games in the standings since then and trails first-place Milwaukee by 10 games.
The Cardinals will go with veteran Edwin Jackson in Thursday's series opener, and the Pirates will counter with hard-luck starter Charlie Morton. Jackson has held his own in his five starts since arriving at the non-waiver Trade Deadline on July 31, while Morton is working through a dominant stretch.
The 27-year-old has worked to an 0.95 ERA in his last four starts, but he was victimized by two blown saves. Morton has gone 6-1 with a 1.98 ERA in 11 starts against division rivals this year, but the Cardinals have several players with strong career histories against him.
Skip Schumaker has gone 9-for-17 against Morton, and fellow infielder Ryan Theriot has hit Morton at a .400 clip (6-for-15). All-Star slugger Lance Berkman is 5-for-10 with two homers and four walks against Morton, but manager Tony La Russa isn't making too much of the small sample size.
"Confidence," he said of the trend. "See the ball well. Sometimes, you don't see the ball well."
"Sometimes you pick up the ball better against certain guys," added left fielder Matt Holliday. "Or their pitching patterns fit your strengths a little better. There's different reasons for different things. But a lot of it depends on how well he's executing and how well I'm executing when you play.
"There's a little bit of confidence that goes in when you've had success. ... It's nice to have a little bit of confidence going in, but it's always tempered by the fact that it could go [the other way]."
Pirates: Jones heats up in August
Outfielder Garrett Jones went 0-for-2 with a walk in Wednesday's victory, but he's still batting .293 (24-for-82) with five home runs and 13 RBIs in 23 August games. Jones hit .297 in June, but he mixed in substandard months in May (.179) and July (.183) to sink his overall stat line.
"He's had a very good month, especially after the month of July," said Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle. "This is the guy we were hoping to see for the large volume of the season. I think he's playing with more confidence. I think he's playing with a better rhythm at the plate."
Cardinals: Craig contributing in variety of ways
Allen Craig doubled as a pinch-hitter on Wednesday, and he has found a way to contribute off the bench for the Cardinals. Craig has played every position except pitcher and catcher this season, and he's one of just two players -- along with Detroit's Ryan Raburn -- to accomplish that feat.
Craig is also one of just nine Cardinals who have ever been able to play seven positions in one season. Craig missed two months and 54 games of action due to a fractured right knee, but he's managed to hit .311 (23-for-74) at home and .333 (20-for-60) on the road.
Pittsburgh has used eight starting pitchers this season. The Pirates have used 48 players, three shy of the franchise record set in 2010. ... The Cards played host to the Bucs once earlier this season, and Pittsburgh won two of the three games in that series. ... Thanks to a postponed game that will be made up next week, the Pirates are playing through a stretch of 22 games in 21 days.