Who is the team to beat at the All-Star break?

BY DI STAFF | JULY 14, 2015 5:00 AM

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Pittsburgh Pirates

Here come the Pirates.

Baseball’s top two teams hail from the same division — the NL Central. And if recent matchups are any indication, Pittsburgh is coming for the St. Louis Cardinals.

In a final four-game series between the two teams before the All-Star break, the Pirates took three — with the final two coming in walk-off fashion.

The Cardinals still have the best record in baseball, but Pittsburgh now lies within 2.5 games of the division lead.

After a slow start, Andrew McCutchen has recovered in a big way. He’s currently batting .295 with a .500 slugging percentage, and unless he enters another slump, those numbers are sure to continue to rise.

On the mound, All-Stars Gerrit Cole and A.J. Burnett lead a strong rotation. Cole is 13-3 with a 2.30 ERA, and Burnett stands at 7-3 with an ERA of 2.11. Add veteran Francisco Liriano to the mix, and the team has a solid core of pitchers who can often carry teams as the season wears on.

Aside from St. Louis, only the Kansas City Royals have a better record than the Pirates — while playing in what was the worst division for most of the first half of the season.

The Pirates could definitely use some more power at the plate; they rank 27th in the majors with just 67 home runs — led by Starling Marte with 14.

But a solid rotation, and their ability to pull out close games against top teams such as St. Louis makes them the team to beat at this point in the season.

Closer Mark Melançon also leads the league in saves with 29, heading a strong bullpen for the Bucs.
This may be the year they finally get past St. Louis in the playoffs. Maybe.

— by Charlie Green

St. Louis Cardinals

Although they’ve stumbled a bit recently (5-5 in their last 10 games), St. Louis has been the most impressive team not just in the National League but in the entire MLB. The Cards are currently sitting in first place of the NL Central, and they have been for most of the first half of the 2015 season. Before June 30, the Cardinals sat nine games ahead of Pittsburgh, owning baseball’s best record at 51-24.

According to ESPN power rankings, the Cards have been able to remain baseball’s top team for the last seven weeks. Since opening day, they have managed to rank in the top five and also were the first team to 50 wins this season.

The Cardinal way has surely been winning so far, and they will continue to win past the All-star break. Prior to June 30, this year’s team looks like the ’98 Yankees, simply destroying its opponents in the NL and sprinkling the remains in the wind. The past 10 games have been a result of a fatigued roster that, like most teams in the MLB, are in grave need of an All-Star break.

Key players will try to return following the four-day break, such as injured left fielder Matt Holiday, who has been out with a right-quad injury. Holiday will make a tremendous impact on the struggling offense when he steps back in the No. 3 spot.

Looking ahead to the remaining regular season, the Cardinals are will try to invest in power hitters who will kick-start the offense into the postseason. If the roster remains as thin as it is, the Cardinals won’t find much success in October.

— by Erin Erickson

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