A year ago, the Pirates and the Cardinals could see each other in their reflections, and it was a very good view. Each won 94-plus games and, fittingly, met in a National League Division Series won in five games by St. Louis.
The two teams still reflect each other, but the early view in 2014 isn't as flattering. Both teams have struggled offensively and continue to average under four runs per game, spoiling a lot of solid pitching as a result.
Francisco Liriano, the Pittsburgh ace still searching for his first win of the season, will take on fellow lefty Tyler Lyons in the middle game of the series.
The Pirates lineup figures to welcome back left fielder Starling Marte and shortstop Jordy Mercer -- both were rested Friday night -- who, along with Andrew McCutchen, were among the league's top producers against left-handed pitching last season.
Including their 1-0 victory in Friday night's series opener, the Cardinals have scored 14 runs in their last eight games. The Bucs have had an occasional offensive outburst, but have scored 34 runs in their 15 defeats.
Hearing Cardinals manager Mike Matheny lament that situation, it's like listening to Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle.
"A lot of missed opportunities," Matheny said of the 5-6 road trip his club had come off. "We had some terrific pitching that was overshadowed by the fact that we couldn't get some offense going. You're going to have runs like that through the year. Unfortunately for us, it's starting that way. But we still find ways to stay in the game. And once things start clicking, it's going to be a whole lot of fun for the club."
Now, Hurdle, whose club lost for the 11th time in 14 games: "Offensively, we're still working, fighting, scratching to be more consistent -- something we're gonna need to play for us to win the division, to have a shot at the playoffs. I do believe it's there."
The Pirates' edge is more apparent in the power department. They entered the series with 28 home runs, second in the NL to Colorado's 29, and the Cardinals were last in the league with 12 and had not gone yard in 291 at-bats the previous eight games.
Pirates: Walker left feeling good
The Bucs could have an unexpected extra weapon against Lyons: Neil Walker, the switch-hitter who has rediscovered his Mojo in the right-side batter's box.
Walker hit .225 (18-for-80) with only one extra base hit against lefties last season, and in the aftermath received suggestions that perhaps he should abandon switch-hitting.
The advice should let up, now that Walker is 7-for-16 against lefties, with already a double and a home run.
"People are going to tell me how bad I stink right-handed, and I don't really care. People think hitting left-handers left-handed is easy? I'm not exactly sure where that came from," Walker said. "No way I'd want to face [Aroldis] Chapman or any seventh-eighth-ninth-inning left-hander batting lefty."
Cardinals: Happy to be home
The road-weary Cardinals were happy to return home on Friday for a six-game homestand that will pit them against division foes Pittsburgh and then Milwaukee. Saturday will be just the eighth game played at Busch Stadium this month, giving the Cardinals fewer home games so far than any team in the Majors. These six home games are bookended by 11- and nine-game road trips taking the Cardinals to mid-May.
"We very much look forward to it," manager Mike Matheny said of returning to St. Louis. "Now we have an opportunity in front of our fans. It feels like baseball weather again. It's real nice to be back here."
The Cardinals' season opens with 26 of the first 38 games on the road, the highest such number in that sample size since 1927. Last season, the Cardinals played 21 of their first 38 games away from home and went 14-7 in those road contests. They are 8-9 on the road this season but now 5-2 at home after Friday's win.
• Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina will enter Saturday riding a 15-game hitting streak, which he was able to extend with a hit in his final at-bat on Friday. He also hit safely in 15 consecutive games back in 2007.
• Friday's defeat dropped the Pirates' record in the opening games of series to 6-2.
• Jon Jay made Friday's start in centerfield for the Cardinals, but Peter Bourjos is expected back into the lineup on Saturday against the lefty Liriano. Bourjos is 1-for-16 against left-handers this season but 5-for-14 in his career against Lirinao.
• Never mind runs, the Bucs have been having trouble just getting hits. They have totaled 20 in their last four games.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.