Pittsburgh Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen (22) scores from second base on a hit by Jung Ho Kang as the ball gets away from St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina during the eighth inning of a baseball game, Saturday, July 11, 2015, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
The Pirates return home to wrap up the regular season Monday night with at least a shot of winning the National League Central.
FanGraphs rated the Pirates’ chances of overtaking the St. Louis Cardinals and capturing the division crown at 10.7 percent entering Sunday’s play, while Baseball Prospectus gave them slightly more hope at 13.5 percent.
Not great odds but at least the Pirates’ three-game series with the Cardinals that opens at 7:05 p.m. PNC Park still means something.
The Cardinals (98-58) hold a three-game lead after both teams lost Sunday, St. Louis dropping an 8-4 decision to the Milwaukee Brewers and the Pirates (95-61) getting blanked 4-0 by the Chicago Cubs.
The Pirates have already clinched a postseason berth for a third straight year but not won a division title since 1992.
Left-hander J.A. Happ (10-8, 3.88) will start for the Pirates on Monday night against Lance Lynn (12-10, 3.16) while Charlie Morton (9-8, 4.54) faces Michael Wacha (17-6, 3.15) on Tuesday night and Gerrit Cole (18-8, 2.60) opposes Tyler Lyons (2-1, 3.96) on Wednesday night.
If the Cardinals and Pirates finish tied for first place, they would play a one-game playoff Oct. 5. Home-field advantage would go to the winner of the season series, which is currently tied 8-8. That adds even more importance to this series.
The Pirates are 5-2 against the Cardinals at PNC Park, including rallying twice in extra innings to win back-to-back games on July 11 and 12, the last two days before the All-Star break, during St. Louis’ last visit.
Pirates utility player Sean Rodriguez is hitting .406 (13-for-32) against the Cardinals this season with four doubles and a home run. First baseman Pedro Alvarez has gone 13-for-45 (.289) with four doubles and three homers.
Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong has a .304 batting average, going 17-for-56, with one double and three home runs. Third baseman Matt Carpenter is 14-for-47 (.298) with one double, three homers and 10 walks.
The Pirates are off Thursday then play the Cincinnati Reds in a three-game series beginning Friday night at PNC.
While the Reds are trying to fend off the Milwaukee Brewers for last in the NL Central just two years after falling to the Pirates in the NL wild card playoff game, they hold a 10-6 advantage in the season series and are 22-13 against Pittsburgh since the start of 2014.
Reds third baseman Todd Frazier has hit 13 home runs against the Pirates in the last two seasons.