(Sports Network) - Getting a win over the Pittsburgh Pirates hasn't been too difficult to achieve these days. With the St. Louis Cardinals sending out arguably the National League's best pitcher of this season tonight, another loss could be in the works for the team with baseball's worst record.
Wainwright will attempt to become the first 18-game winner of the 2010 campaign when the Cy Young Award candidate takes the mound against the downtrodden Pirates in the second of three straight meetings between the NL Central foes from PNC Park.
Pittsburgh lost for the 13th time in its last 15 games with a 10-2 setback to the Cardinals in Monday's opener of this series. The perennial basement dwellers were also held to two runs or less for the 11th time in the club's past 12 contests.
That statistic doesn't bode well for a matchup against Wainwright, the major league leader in earned run average this season (2.06) who also sports an excellent 17-7 record for the year. The All-Star right-hander has given up one run or fewer in eight of his last 10 starts and came away with a victory in seven of those tests.
Wainwright does enter tonight's clash off a rare loss, however, after he was reached for three runs over seven innings in a 3-2 defeat to Milwaukee last Wednesday. The standout hurler had won three consecutive starts prior to that result, a stretch which began when he limited the Pirates to one run through seven frames on August 1.
The 28-year-old followed up that gem with back-to-back road triumphs over Florida and the Chicago Cubs in which he did not allow a run and yielded a mere four hits over a combined 16 innings.
Wainwright also bested the Pirates at PNC Park back in May and sports a 7-2 record with a 4.73 ERA in 16 career appearances (12 starts) against the Bucs.
St. Louis notched its third straight win and closed within 2 1/2 games of Cincinnati for first place in the NL Central with Monday's verdict. Albert Pujols quickly put the Cards on top with a three-run homer in the top of the first inning, with Yadier Molina tacking on an RBI single later in the frame to help starter Kyle Lohse win for the first time in over three months.
Both Pujols and Molina finished 3-for-5 to pace a 14-hit attack for St. Louis, with Molina adding a run-scoring double in the fifth inning.
Lohse (2-5), making only his second start since May 22 due to a forearm strain that required surgery, held the Pirates to two runs and struck out four over 5 1/3 effective innings. The righty took a shutout into the bottom of the sixth before serving up a two-run homer to Garrett Jones.
Pittsburgh's Ross Ohlendorf wasn't as fortunate. The tough-luck pitcher faced only two batters before exiting with an apparent shoulder injury, but still managed to receive his 11th loss in 12 decisions.
"We will know more [Tuesday]," said Pirates manager John Russell about Ohlendorf's status. "He had some tightness and soreness in the back of his shoulder."
Ohlendorf walked Skip Schumaker to begin the game and then surrendered a single to Jon Jay, with both men scoring when Pujols greeted substitute Sean Gallagher with the 399th homer of his illustrious career.
"You want to make sure you get on the board right away," said Pujols. "I put my best swing of the night [on the pitch]."
With the Pirates' bullpen taxed due to yesterday's circumstances, Russell will be counting on a long effort from scheduled starter Paul Maholm tonight. The left-hander will be trying to break out of a three-start losing streak that has left him with a 7-12 overall mark for the season.
Maholm's latest defeat took place at home against Florida on Thursday, when he permitted four runs and eight hits in 5 2/3 innings. The former first-round pick is now 5-8 with an unimpressive 5.69 ERA in 13 PNC Park starts this year.
Since tossing a three-hit shutout against Houston on July 18, Maholm is 1-5 with a brutal 8.07 ERA in six subsequent outings and has allowed four or more in runs in five of those assignments.
The 28-year-old was also tagged for six runs (four earned) in just 3 1/3 innings during a loss to Wainwright and the Cardinals back on May 9, which dropped him to 3-4 with a 3.48 ERA in 11 career starts against St. Louis.
The Cardinals are now 9-4 at PNC Park since the start of the 2009 season and have won three of four bouts between the teams held in the Steel City this year. They've also taken 12 of the last 14 overall games in the series, including six of seven bouts so far this season.