The Pirates and the Cardinals have already played a couple of pitching dominated games -- and now here come their staffs' aces.
St. Louis' Adam Wainwright and the Bucs' Edinson Volquez meet in Sunday's rubber game.
Wainwright has been the go-to guy in the Cardinals' rotation for years, of course, although manager Mike Matheny rates him more dominant than ever before. Wainwright has an ongoing streak of 17 shutout innings and has gone at least seven innings in each of his first seven starts -- including Tuesday in New York, when a hyperextended knee stopped his outing after 79 pitches.
Wainwright concurs with Matheny's assessment.
"I'm more of a complete pitcher than I've ever been," Wainwright said. "Just using all my pitches, pitching to both sides of the plate, pitching up and pitching down."
Volquez's current stature as the Pirates' most reliable, most consistent starter, on the other hand, is a major surprise. He has overcome the inconsistencies that saddled him with a 5.71 ERA last season and had him lead the National League with 105 walks in 2012.
Tony Sanchez, who has already caught a couple of Volquez's outings, could again be behind the plate on Sunday. Sanchez, recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis on Saturday, has become the Bucs' primary catcher with Russell Martin going on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring.
Sanchez has a seven-game hitting streak, having hit safely in each game he has played this season. He made his big league debut in a supporting role last season, but the 2009 No. 1 Draft choice now is in a higher-profile situation.
"Things happen for a reason, and he's excited by this opportunity," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Sanchez, meant to spend the season in Triple-A so he can play regularly in preparation for moving in as the team's No. 1 catcher in 2015. "Right now, the best opportunity for him to play and develop is right here. This is a good sharpening opportunity for him."
Pirates: Bullpen roles trickle down after Grilli
The Bucs are well armed to handle the loss of closer Jason Grilli, who went on the DL Saturday (retroactive to April 21) with a left oblique strain. Mark Melancon has considerable closing experience, including 16 of 21 saves last season while Grilli was out with a forearm issue, and other strong arms to inherit his setup duties.
"I believe we're in real good shape," Hurdle said, running down his new bullpen sequence. "We got [left-hander Tony] Watson, who can pitch the eighth inning against anybody. [Bryan] Morris has the stuff to do it. [Justin] Wilson can give us a hand there as well. We got [Jeanmar] Gomez and [Stolmy] Pimentel for length, and Jared Hughes as the wild card, with his sinker."
Cardinals: Wong still trying to get right
Benched on Saturday as Matheny opted for a right-handed-heavy lineup against Pirates lefty Francisco Liriano, second baseman Kolten Wong is expected back in the lineup for the Cardinals' series finale on Sunday.
Wong snapped an 0-for-10 rut with a two-hit game on Thursday, though he finished with only four hits in 28 at-bats on the team's recent road trip. Hitting coach John Mabry is working with Wong to make sure he keeps his stroke short and minimizes the movement in his swing. Getting those elements right are key for Wong as he seeks to regain his timing.
"Exactly like we were talking about some of the other guys, he hasn't had a whole lot of struggle throughout his career," Matheny said of Wong, a career .301 hitter in the Minors. "When it's on this platform, it's not the same. You have to figure out how to get through it, and sometimes the only way to figure out how to get through it is to wade through it. And he is just kind of wading his way right now. He's got everything he needs. It's just a matter of him proving it to himself and righting the ship."
Wong did not face Volquez when he pitched against the Cardinals earlier this month.
• Jose Tabata enjoyed his fourth career three-hit game on Saturday at Busch Stadium, where he is a career .345 (40-for-116) lifetime hitter.
• Catcher Yadier Molina will be looking to start a new hitting streak on Sunday after having his career-long 15-game hitting streak snapped with an 0-for-4 game on Saturday. It was tied for the longest active hitting streak in the Majors along with Colorado's Nolan Arenado.
• Pittsburgh leadoff hitter Starling Marte has at least one strikeout in 20 of his 24 games, and leads the Majors with an overall total of 36 whiffs.
• The Cardinals are still seeking to snap out of a homerless drought that now extends 10 games and 354 at-bats. The club's last home run came off the bat of Allen Craig in the team's April 16 game in Milwaukee. The Cardinals have hit an NL-low 12 home runs this season.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.