For the first time since May 27, the Cardinals are within two games of first place in the National League Central. A three-game series with the division-leading Brewers looms on Friday, but first the Cards will have to deal with red-hot right-hander Edinson Volquez.
Volquez, 31, will take the Busch Stadium mound for the Pirates on Thursday night looking to continue his streak of dominant starts. After going 1-2 with a 5.67 ERA in May, he is 3-0 in his last three outings and has a 0.86 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over that span.
What's been the biggest factor in his recent success?
For one, he hasn't been burned by the long ball. Volquez allowed four homers in a loss to the Yankees on May 17, but in the nine starts (covering 52 1/3 innings) he's made since, he has given up just three.
"Sometimes you have to take a step back to move forward," Volquez said. "What happened that day, [it was a] bad game, [I responded] pretty good."
Volquez's ability to rebound has been huge for the Pirates, who, at 4 1/2 games behind, are also vying to get back back atop the NL Central.
"You watch the way he bounced back, [he] understands his role and responsibility in the rotation," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's given us a very, very solid body of work."
Shelby Miller will get the nod for St. Louis looking to give his team a boost heading into the final series before the All-Star break.
Miller has been working through some mechanical issues lately, but he fared better his last time out after surrendering six runs in a loss to the Dodgers the outing before. He went 5 1/3 innings against the Marlins on Saturday, allowing three runs on nine hits, and didn't factor in the decision.
"I felt more in sync than last time, still a little shaky at times," Miller said. "I wasn't out there feeling like I could hit every spot, I was kind of grinding it out a little bit. We had some good plays made, but at the end of the day, we just didn't come out on top."
Pirates: Liriano set to return before All-Star break
Francisco Liriano will make his comeback start on Sunday in Cincinnati, bumping right-hander Vance Worley into the bullpen for the final series prior to the All-Star break.
Liriano went on the disabled list on June 11 with a strained left oblique and on Monday completed his rehab with six shutout innings for Triple-A Indianapolis.
Worley will help out in relief for the short term; the Pirates' staff will soon determine the club's post-break rotation and Worley's role in it.
"We'll have Worley throw his regular bullpen [on Thursday], then see if he'll be available out of the bullpen Saturday and Sunday," Hurdle said. "We still have to talk through how we'll break out in the second half. That's always a challenge with the four days down -- who can provide us with the biggest impact as we kick off the second half?"
For the three-game set against the Reds, the Pirates will have left-handers Jeff Locke and Liriano bookending right-hander Charlie Morton.
Cardinals: Kelly to start on Friday against Brewers
On April 16, just three weeks after learning that he had been named the team's fifth starter, Joe Kelly saw his season come to a halt when he strained his left hamstring sprinting down the first-base line at Miller Park. Now he's poised to head back to the Brewers' home ballpark ready to announce his return.
Kelly rejoined the Cardinals on Wednesday and made it official that he will come off the DL on Friday to start the series opener in Milwaukee. It will be his first start since that day in April, not counting the three rehab outings he completed with Triple-A Memphis.
"It's definitely a good day to come back," Kelly said. "I want to go back and pitch well there. It's exciting. I haven't played Major League baseball in two and a half months. I'm looking forward to it, and I'm definitely excited."
Kelly threw a bullpen session with Memphis on Tuesday, the final hurdle before he could be cleared to make a start in the Majors. He threw 72 pitches in his final rehab start, on Sunday, which means he'll likely be limited to about 90 in his return.
• Neil Walker, who hit a homer and double on Wednesday, has his second 11-game hit streak of the season. He is only member of the Pirates with a pair of double-digit streaks in 2014.
His homer, his 12th of the season, matched Phil Garner (1977) for the most by a Pittsburgh second baseman prior to the All-Star break.
• The Pirates are 20-28 against the NL Central this season, with a 9-4 record against the last-place Cubs. In addition, they are 5-12 in their last 17 games in St. Louis, including the 2013 NL Division Series.
Erik Bacharach is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.