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Mark Melancon has the best ERA among relievers this season (minimum 40 innings pitched).The St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates meet in the fourth game of a five-game series tonight at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN and WatchESPN, with Pittsburgh dominating the series recently.
Here’s a look at the rarity of the Pirates’ dominance of this matchup and the strengths of each team.
Pirates' recent dominance
The Cardinals were swept in a doubleheader Tuesday for the first time since 1996. That snapped a streak of 22 doubleheaders played without being swept, which had been the longest active streak in baseball, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
After winning the first three games against St. Louis, the Pirates are seeking to sweep a five-game series for the first time since September 1996. The Cardinals haven't been swept in a series of at least five games since losing all six games at the Polo Grounds against the New York Giants in September 1916. The last five-game sweep in the majors came in 2006, when the Yankees swept the Red Sox.
The Pirates have won five straight games against St. Louis, and they have not won six straight meetings since winning 13 in a row during the 1992 season. That was the last time the Pirates made the playoffs and finished better than .500.
Cardinals get clutch hits
The Cardinals hit well with runners in scoring position. St. Louis is batting .334 with runners in scoring position, the best in the majors by a large margin. Elias tells us that .334 clip would be the best average with runners in scoring position over the past 50 seasons.
Highest BA with RISP
How wide is the Cardinals’ lead in batting average with runners in scoring position? They could go hitless in their next 131 at-bats with runners in scoring position and still lead the majors. They could also go hitless in their next 235 at-bats with runners in scoring position and still lead the National League.
The Cardinals have four of the top nine hitters in baseball with runners in scoring position: Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina and Carlos Beltran. Craig leads the majors with a .475 average with runners in scoring position, which would be the best mark for a season since George Brett hit .469 in 1980.
Shutdown pen in Pittsburgh
The Pirates’ bullpen has been the key to their success this season. Pittsburgh's bullpen leads the majors in opponent’s batting average and WHIP and ranks second in bullpen ERA.
The Pirates are all but guaranteed to win if they lead late in the game, as they are 49-2 when leading after seven innings and 54-1 when leading after eight innings.
Even with closer Jason Grilli on the disabled list, the Pirates have two elite relievers. Mark Melancon leads all relievers (minimum 40 innings) with a 0.89 ERA, while Justin Wilson’s 2.08 ERA ranks in the top 10 among National League relievers.