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Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 07/22/2011

Leading off: St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates set for key National League Central series

Game of the day: St. Louis at Pittsburgh, 7:05 p.m. The National League Central remains crowded at the top, with surprising Pittsburgh and unsurprising St. Louis two of the four teams in the fray. The upstart Pirates are in the middle of a 13-game stretch against NL contenders that will largely prove whether they can truly compete with the league’s traditional powers. In the opener of this three-game series Friday, left-hander Paul Maholm (6-9) will start for Pittsburgh, sporting an ERA (3.06) that is much more impressive than his record indicates. Maholm has allowed two earned runs or fewer in 13 of his 20 starts this season, but has only earned a win in six of those games. Veteran right-hander Chris Carpenter (5-7) will start for St. Louis, going for his fifth straight win after he started the season 1-7.

Other game to watch: Chicago White Sox at Cleveland, 7:05 p.m. Four teams are also in contention in the American League Central, and the third-place White Sox are set to begin a six-game stretch against Cleveland and Detroit – the two teams they are chasing. A pair of former Phillies’ prospects will pitch the series opener on Friday, as Gavin Floyd (7-9) is the scheduled starter for Chicago and Carlos Carrasco (8-7) will pitch for Cleveland. Floyd – acquired in a 2006 trade for Freddy Garcia – has pitched in just two White Sox wins in his last nine starts, but pitched well and beat Detroit in his last start Friday. Carrasco – acquired for Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco in 2009 – is 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA in his last three starts.

Games you should have seen:

Toronto 7, Seattle 5. After Miguel Olivo hit a grand slam for Seattle to tie the game at 5 in the top of the eighth, Rajai Davis hit a two-run double in the bottom of the inning to drive in the eventual winning runs for Toronto. Seattle has lost 12 games in a row, the franchise’s longest losing streak since Sept. 2008. Ichiro went 3 for 4 for the Mariners, while Jose Bautista had two RBIs for a streaking Blue Jays club that has won eight of its last 10 games.

Los Angeles Angels 1, Texas 0 . Left-hander C.J. Wilson allowed only two hits over eight innings, but the Rangers still lost and Los Angeles closed to within three games of them in the American League West. Howie Kendrick scored the lone run of the game in the second inning when Texas center fielder Endy Chavez dropped a Mike Trout fly ball with two outs. Right-hander Jered Weaver picked up his 13th win of the season after he pitched 7.0 scoreless innings for the Angels.

Stat you should know: .992. Career fielding percentage for Rangers center fielder Endy Chavez before his critical error led to the Angels’ only run in Texas’s aforementioned 1-0 loss. The 10-year veteran had made only 12 errors in 1,483 chances.

Star of the night: Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta went 3 for 4 with a home run and 3 RBIs Thursday in Detroit’s 6-2 win over Minnesota. The win put the Tigers a half-game ahead of Cleveland atop the American League Central division standings.

Chatter: “We’ve got to get tougher. This game will eat you up if you don’t get tougher…A lot of these guys are getting eaten up right now. We can’t give in, we can’t keep pouting about it and we damn sure can’t quit. You’ve got to just keep going, and you’ve got to be tough enough when you’re doing that.” – Seattle manager Eric Wedge after the Mariners lost their 12th consecutive game Thursday at Toronto. The Mariners have not won since July 5, and they have fallen from 2.5 games out of first place to 12.5 games out during that stretch.

By Greg Schimmel  |  07:00 AM ET, 07/22/2011

 
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