The Cardinals are a game out of first-place in the National League Central, and one out of every five games left on their schedule is against the Pirates.
Is that good or bad?
Isn't it great that we're even asking that question?
We are asking it, because even here in late July, we're still asking whether the Pirates -- the first-place Pirates -- are for real. We're still asking if they're just a great story, or if they're more than that.
"They're legit," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.
They're 51-45, six games over .500. Or as the skeptics like to point out, six wins over Houston over .500, because if you take out their 12 games against the awful Astros, the Pirates are right at .500 against the rest of the league.
They're 51-45, and if they were in the National League East, that would leave them 10 1/2 games out, and we'd consider them sellers. They'd be 4 1/2 behind the Giants in the National League West, without any real chance of winning.
But they're not in the East and they're not in the West. They're percentage points up on the Brewers and a game up on the Cardinals, who come to Pittsburgh this weekend for a series like none that PNC Park has ever seen.
The games Friday and Saturday are already sold out. The game Sunday is close to selling out.
People are excited, as they should be. The Cardinals are impressed, as they should be.
"Maybe if this were May or June, you might discount teams," Matt Holliday said. "But this is late July."
The Cardinals and Pirates haven't played since the first week of the season, when the Pirates won two of three in St. Louis. The Cardinals scored just seven runs in the entire series.
"I said it then," Lance Berkman said. "If they get pitching like that all year, they'll be tough."
They haven't gotten pitching like that all year, not yet. But they've got pitching like that through 96 games, and they are tough.
"Their young players are into their second or third year, and they have a better idea," La Russa said. "And they've pitched well. It's a very familiar formula.
"And it works."
On to 3 to Watch:
1. Chris Carpenter took the loss in one of those three April games against the Pirates, even though he allowed just one earned run in six innings. It was his first loss to the Pirates in seven years, a span in which he had gone 10-0 with a 1.85 ERA. Carpenter faces Paul Maholm in Cardinals at Pirates, Friday night (7:05 ET) at PNC Park. Carpenter will be followed by Jaime Garcia on Saturday, and Kyle Lohse on Sunday, assuming Lohse's right middle finger cooperates. He was examined by a doctor in St. Louis, and cleared to pitch. For the Pirates, Kevin Correia and Charlie Morton will follow Maholm in the rotation.
2. When the Mariners played so well in the first half, general manager Jack Zduriencik's job looked safe. Now the Mariners have lost 12 in a row, and people are asking again whether Zduriencik will survive. The more immediate question is when the Mariners will win a game, now that they're within two of tying the record for the longest losing streak in club history. The best chance might come in Mariners at Red Sox, Friday night (7:10 ET) at Fenway Park, when Felix Hernandez pitches against John Lackey. According to the Mariners, Hernandez has the lowest career ERA at Fenway (1.49) of any pitcher with five or more starts there. On Saturday, in the game that could tie the record, it's Blake Beavan against Josh Beckett.
3. The Twins are going for it in the American League Central, although if they collapse this weekend against the Tigers, maybe they'll change their minds. They lost Thursday night to Justin Verlander, dropping to 0-6 against Detroit this season. The most interesting matchup of the weekend may come in Tigers at Twins, Sunday afternoon (4:10 ET) at Target Field, when Francisco Liriano faces Rick Porcello.