PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN) – Rob Neyer, FoxSports.com MLB writer, joined Starkey and Mueller Thursday to talk about the state of the Pirates and their National League competitors as August and the trade deadline loom.

Neyer presumes that the NL Central Division will remain a heated deadlock between the second place Pirates (53-35) and the first place St. Louis Cardinals (56-33), yet, he suspects that the Cardinals could experience regression because of their pitching.

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“I think the Cardinals have been a little bit over their heads this year, especially on the pitching side,” Neyer said. “They’re headed for a historic season with their pitching and especially their starting pitching, but I don’t think their talent level is quite that impressive, especially with Adam Wainwright out. So, to me, these two teams are about as even as they can be.”

And speaking of “regression,” Neyer said that Pirates veteran leader A.J. Burnett could begin a reversion towards his career numbers sometime in the foreseeable future.

“His underlying skills don’t support a 2.11 ERA,” Neyer said. “He’s still a fine pitcher and a deserving All-Star. He’s given up four [home runs] all season in 18 starts, and that’s very difficult to sustain, and that’s why I think we’ll see his ERA go up some.”

Neyer added that he expects the Pirates’ so-called “big three” of Gerrit Cole, Burnett and Francisco Liriano to collectively do the same.

“I think that probably all of the Pirates top three starters will have their ERA go up in the second half of the season. They’ll still be really good because they are all fundamentally good pitchers,” he said.

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One hot button issue in Pittsburgh over the past month has been whether Pirates general manager Neal Huntington needs to test the trade market as the July 31 trade deadline approaches.

Neyer said that the Pirates present unique circumstances, as does the current field of free agents.

“The Pirates look to me like a team that doesn’t need a whole lot of help,” he said. “The weak spot in the lineup has been in right field, where Polanco hasn’t played well, and at shortstop, where Jordy Mercer hasn’t hit this season. So they can look at upgrades this year, but I don’t think the Pirates are interested in replacing Polanco, at 23, a potential star, although they’d like some extra help there.

“Pitching,” he continued. “What are you going to do there? All [Pirates starters] have been doing well. I don’t see a lot happening here, they could pick up a reliever, maybe they don’t. I just don’t think there’s much room for improvement here unless you look for a big time shortstop, and I just don’t think there are many out there.”

The entire interview can be accessed below:

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