PITTSBURGH — The way Kyle Lohse is pitching at the moment, the St. Louis right-hander doesn’t need much run support to win.
The same goes for Pittsburgh’s Erik Bedard.
Only Lohse, however, has the luxury of playing on the team with the National League’s best offense. It made all the difference Sunday.
Lohse scattered six hits while pitching into the eighth inning to lead the Cardinals past the Pirates 5-1.
David Freese had a two-run single for the St. Louis and Rafael Furcal had three hits as the Cardinals extended their strong start behind another superb outing from Lohse (3-0), who struck out five without issuing a walk even though his ERA actually ticked up from 0.89 to 0.99.
“Man he’s unreal,” Freese said of Lohse. “I’ve heard other guys say that when he hits his spots, he’s one of the toughest in the game to string some hits together. And he’s showing it, for sure.”
So is Bedard, who was again undone by a lack of run support.
The left-hander gave up three runs on six hits, walking four and striking out seven in seven innings but it wasn’t enough to keep his record from calling to 0-4. The Pirates have scored three times with Bedard on the mound this season.
“All you can do is battle,” Bedard said. “Runs will come and right now they’re just not coming. You keep doing what you can and put zeroes up there.”
Lohse improved to 8-2 in his career against Pittsburgh, having his way with baseball’s worst offense. His only mistake came in the eighth, when Mike McKenry led off with a double and scored on Casey McGehee’s pinch-hit single to trim St. Louis’ lead to 3-1.
Mitchell Boggs came on in relief and quickly shut the door. Nate McLouth flied to left and Boggs held onto Jose Tabata’s sharp grounder back to the mound to start an inning-ending double play.
The Cardinals tacked on two runs in the ninth off Evan Meek for the final margin.
Bedard, as he has in each of his starts, kept the Pirates in it despite a rocky first inning in which the Cardinals loaded the bases with no outs, just as they did against A.J. Burnett on Saturday night.
Burnett, however, settled down and escaped the inning unscathed. Bedard wasn’t quite so fortunate, giving up a run when Carlos Beltran hit into a double play.
St. Louis made it 3-0 in the third when Furcal led off with a double and Tyler Greene walked. Bedard managed to get through Matt Holliday and Beltran and came within a strike of getting out of the jam before Freese lined a sharp single to right.
The hit ended a 1-for-25 funk by the Cardinals with runners in scoring position.
“I didn’t even know it was that bad,” Freese said. “But you feel it a little. You definitely understand what’s happening, what’s been going on.”
Bedard didn’t give up another hit over his final four innings, but once again it wasn’t enough in yet another nip-tuck game for the Pirates.
Though Pittsburgh has been anemic at the plate — coming in with a team batting average of .203, easily the worst in the majors — the Pirates have remained competitive thanks to a pitching staff that ranks third in the NL in ERA (2.53).
Pittsburgh hasn’t scored more than five runs or given up more than five runs in a game this season, the longest such streak to start a year in the NL since the 1965 Pirates.
That team shook off a 6-10 start to finish 90-72 and featured three Hall of Famers in Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and Bill Mazeroski.
This version of the Pirates lacks that kind of star power, and will need to find some offense eventually if it wants to be a factor this summer.
“We’ve scored (three) runs in Erik’s starts,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “It’s problematic.”
The Cardinals have no such worries. The defending World Series champions are the National League’s top offensive team despite losing slugger Albert Pujols in the offseason.
St. Louis has outscored its opponents by 36 runs through the season’s first two weeks, the most in the NL and have won each of its first six series of the season.
“That’s what you try to do, you try to win series,” Freese said. “You want to sweep, but that’s obviously not going to happen all the time. Consistency, that’s the name of this game, and we’re doing that pretty well right now.”
NOTES: St. Louis CF John Jay will fly back to St. Louis to have his sprained right shoulder re-examined. … The Pirates open a three-game series with Colorado on Monday. Kevin Correia (1-0, 1.50 ERA), who was scratched from his usual start on Saturday due to pain in his side, will start for Pittsburgh against Colorado’s Jamie Moyer (1-2, 2.55 ERA). … The Cardinals begin a three-game series in Chicago on Monday. Jaime Garcia (2-0, 3.06 ERA) will face Matt Garza (1-1, 3.66).