News and notes from around the Central:
- Pittsburgh third baseman Pedro Alvarez's strained right quadriceps kept him out of action much longer than anyone could have anticipated; Alvarez has been on the DL for more than two months and stayed at AAA for two more weeks after finishing his rehab work. But when Alex Presley went on the disabled list with an injured thumb, Alvarez got the call and was inserted into the starting lineup in yesterday's win over the Braves.
- Cardinal outfielder Lance Berkman strained his right rotator cuff in his last at-bat in Sunday's loss to the Pirates, and he was held out of the Cards' game against the Astros yesterday. Berkman says he doesn't expect to miss more than a day or two with the injury.
- Joey Votto is hitting just .202 since the All-Star Break, and Reds skipper Dusty Baker has noticed that his All-Star first baseman has looked worn out in the last couple weeks. So it didn't come as much of a surprise that Votto got a rare day off in yesterday's contest vs. the Mets.
- Cubs set-up man Kerry Wood wasn't available to work the eighth inning of Sunday's game against Houston, but you'll get different explanations for why Wood was held out: according to Cryin' Mike Quade, Wood's arm is "a little cranky"; according to Wood, there aren't any issues with his arm.
- In today's "Whither Hunter Pence?" note: the Braves could use another bat in the lineup, and they haven't ruled out the possibility of making an offer for Pence, who's going to cost a pretty penny to pry from the Astros.
Pittsburgh and St. Louis remained tied atop the Central, as both teams won on Monday night to move a half-game ahead of the idle Brewers. The Pirates nickel and dimed their way to victory against Atlanta's Tim Hudson, plating two runs in the second inning on a couple of walks, a fly-out that moved both runners up, an RBI ground out from Ronny Cedeno and a Mike McKenry RBI single. The Bucs tacked on another run in the sixth on Andrew McCutchen's RBI single, and James McDonald and four Pirate relievers held the Braves at bay: Atlanta had plenty of opportunities to score -- the Braves combined to strand 17 runners in the game, and went 0-5 with runners in scoring position -- but could only manage a Chipper Jones homer in the eighth inning.
- The Cardinals kept pace with a 10-5 victory over moribund Houston at Busch Stadium. Like so many teams before them, St. Louis jumped all over hapless J.A. Happ, who lasted just 4.2 innings while surrendering seven hits, three walks, and six earned runs. Yadier Molina hit a solo homer off Happ in the fourth and Colby Rasmus clubbed a two-run shot in the fifth inning as the Cards made efficient use of their 12 hits and four bases on balls. Carlos Lee tried to rally the Astros with a grand slam in the eighth that made the score 8-5, but the Redbirds tacked on two more runs in the eighth -- Skip Schumaker and Jon Jay had RBI singles -- to salt this one away.
- Cincinnati was clinging to a 1-0 lead heading into the top of the seventh inning of yesterday's game against the Mets, but Mike Leake and the Reds bullpen melted down in a big way, giving up four runs in the seventh as New York rallied for a 4-2 win at Great American Ballpark. Daniel Murphy and Jason Bay delivered the big blows in the seventh: Murphy drove in two with a double, and Bay followed with an opposite-field double of his own to plate Murphy. The Reds could never quite figure out knuckleballer R.A. Dickey: Cincinnati touched the right-hander for eight hits in 6.2 innings but struck out eight times, and four Mets relievers held the Reds to one hit over the game's final 2.1 innings.
- Milwaukee and Chicago had the day off.
Your updated standings for July 26:
On tap for tonight:
- The Pirates look to keep the good times rollin' against the Braves at 6:10 p.m. CDT. Jeff Karstens (8-5, 2.28) is on the bump for the Bucs, while Cyborg Tommy Hanson (11-5, 3.06) takes the mound for Atlanta.
- The Cardinals will take the Astros behind the woodshed at 7:15 p.m. CDT. Brett Myers (3-10, 4.74) takes the ball for the Astros, while Jake Westbrook (8-4, 5.04) starts for the Cards.
- The Crew and the Cubs open a three-game series at Miller Park at 7:10 p.m. CDT., when Chris Narveson (6-6, 4.45) takes on Ryan Dempster (7-7, 5.00).
- The Reds and Mets are back at it at 6:10 p.m. CDT. In game two, Jon Niese (9-8, 3.76) faces Johnny Cueto (6-3, 1.98).