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Three monster home runs power Cards past Bucs 8-5

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Other than one difficult-to-watch defensive inning by Josh Harrison, tonight was more about the Cardinals than it was about offensive slumps, Andrew McCutchen's knees, Jung-Ho Kang's playing time, or any other of the recent Pirates problem-narratives.

Well, that lede might not be completely accurate. Just as I finished writing it, Kolten Wong absolutely destroyed a first-pitch slider from Arquimedes Caminero deep into the right field seats. His three-run home run put the Cardinals up 8-3, and it proved to be the difference-maker.

Pirates relievers now have 16 meltdowns, tying them with the Nationals for most in the National League.

For at least one night, the bullpen narrative is back. And of all the problem-narratives that have emerged already this season, it is more likely to end up more directly tied to the ultimate fate of this team than any of the offensive-related ones.

The bullpen was seen as a strength coming into the season. There wasn't much not to like in the back end with Jared Hughes, Tony Watson and Mark Melancon. Antonio Bastardo looked like a solid replacement for Justin Wilson, and rest of the guys were hard throwers.

But now: Melancon is looking like an early season version of 2014 Jason Grilli, Hurdle doesn't seem to trust Bastardo who keeps getting lit up, and the three hard throwers (Radhames Liz, Rob Scahill and Caminero) are, in reality, unknown commodities that could go completely Ernesto Frieri.

Certainly, the glass on the panic button doesn't need to be broken, and one doesn't want to fall into the habit of identifying a new problem area after each loss. But, unlike the recent slump where there is good reason to be confident that the offense will ultimately end up a strength because most of the position players have good major league track records, there is a lot of uncertainty with this bullpen.

There are two guys with solid, major-league track records who look pretty much like themselves so far this year. After that, there appears to be a lot of unpredictability.

In the end, the two pitching narratives - i.e. the health of the starting rotation and the bullpen stabilizing in the right direction - will likely prove to be more consequential to the season than any offensive concerns that worry us now.

Cardinals power up

Anyway, back to the original lede.

The Cardinals entered the series with only 19 home runs, but tonight they rocked three of the longest homers seen at PNC Park this season. In the second, Jhonny Peralta hit a solo shot off the batter's eye in center field. In the third, Matt Holliday hit a laser over The Notch in left-center. Finally, in the seventh, Kolten Wong put one two-thirds of the way up in the right field seats.

"It's nice to not just get the big hits but get the home runs to get us going," Mike Matheny said. "We know we have guys that can do that. All the way through that order there's guys with power, the ability to change the game."

Francisco Liriano's final line was one of extremes, both good and bad. He allowed only one walk while striking out 10, but gave up two homers and six runs in 6.2 innings pitched.

"We had a mixed bag," Clint Hurdle said of Liriano's start. "He paid for his mistakes. The pitches that missed locations they squared them up ... one walk and 10 strikeouts on the other side of things."

With the exception of the three-game series against Pirates in St. Louis, the Cardinals offense broke out in the last two weeks. Aside from those three games last weekend, they've now scored 83 runs in the past 14 games (5.9 runs per game).

"They were through a stretch where they were struggling offensively," Hurdle said. "They've picked it up before we came in and we were able to hold them down, but they've been swinging the bats."

McCutchen coming around

McCutchen went 2 for 5 with a double and a run scored. More importantly, his double came on a line drive that he smoked to left-center field. The last two nights he accumulated three hits on balls hit sharply to the left side.

"As we said last night, the connection between the lower and upper half [of his body] are more in sync now," Hurdle said. "He's able to hold the swing and finish the swing with a lot more rhythm and bat speed."

Since his 0-for-freaking-4, McCutchen is now 6-for-13, with three runs scored, two doubles, one RBI and one stolen base.