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Two years ago, Chris Archer and Yu Darvish were All-Stars. Now they are both trying to regain All-Star form, or something close to it.

They will face off when the regular season resumes for Archer's visiting Pittsburgh Pirates and Darvish's Chicago Cubs on Friday afternoon.

 

It's an important series for both National League Central foes. The Pirates find themselves just 2 1/2 games behind the Cubs for first place in the tightest division race in the majors.

 

Archer and Darvish lead the NL in home runs allowed with 20 each, though Darvish has done so in three more starts. Archer gave up two homers to the Cubs in his last start before the break on July 3, and will be pitching on the north side of Chicago for the fourth time in his career.

 

Darvish (2-4, 5.01) is second in the league in wild pitches with eight and has six hit batters. He has yet to win at home this season and is 0-6 in his career at Wrigley Field.

 

The Pirates are powered by All-Star slugger Josh Bell, who led the majors at the break with 30 doubles and 84 RBIs and leads Pittsburgh with 27 home runs.

 

The Cubs have not been playing especially well of late, and figure to be buyers in the trade market with a half-game division lead over the Milwaukee Brewers. Chicago is 8-12 in its last 20 games, 13-17 in the last 30 and 15-16 against division opponents this season.

 

The Cubs are 3-4 against the Pirates this season, with just one run separating the teams in total runs scored against each other, 37 for Pittsburgh and 36 for the Cubs.

 

 

 

Paul Goldschmidt spent most of the last decade as the face of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

He confronts his former franchise for the first time when the St. Louis Cardinals host the Diamondbacks on Friday to start a three-game series between teams in the thick of the National League wild-card race.

Part of the formula for the Cardinals to have second-half success is for Goldschmidt to get hot.

 

The 31-year-old first baseman is hitting. 254 with 16 home runs and 37 RBIs in 88 games.

 

Other than the home runs, his numbers are down across the board. The batting average would be his lowest since he played in 48 games as a rookie for Arizona in 2011, and he has a mere nine doubles after hitting at least 33 in each of the past seven seasons. He failed to reach the All-Star Game after six consecutive appearances.

 

St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina (thumb) was placed on the 10-day injured list Thursday while third baseman Matt Carpenter (back) was activated.

 

Arizona, which swept a three-game home series against the Colorado Rockies before the All-Star break to get to 46-45, made out OK in the Goldschmidt trade. Starting pitcher Luke Weaver was effective (4-3, 3.03 ERA) before suffering a right forearm strain in late May, and catcher Carson Kelly is hitting .276 with 10 homers in 174 at-bats.

 

Moreover, the move cleared the way for one of Arizona's first-half standouts -- first baseman Christian Walker, who is hitting .263 with 17 home runs and 45 RBIs.

 

The Cardinals will open the second half with right-hander Adam Wainwright (5-7, 4.31 ERA). His last start was at Seattle on July 3, when he allowed two runs in five innings, getting a no-decision in a 5-2 victory. He is 8-5 with a 2.95 ERA in 15 career appearances (12 starts) against Arizona.

 

The Diamondbacks will go with left-hander Robbie Ray (6-6, 3.96). Although he often struggles with his control, he strikes out 11.78 per nine innings, the fifth-best mark in the majors. Ray is coming off a win over the Rockies on Saturday, when he allowed one run and two hits over six innings, striking out eight and walking five.

 

Ray has made five career starts vs. the Cardinals, with a 1-3 record and a 6.10 ERA.

 

 

 

The Oakland Athletics are typically overlooked on a national scale but are right in the thick of the American League wild-card race as play resumes after the All-Star break.

 

The Athletics (50-41) are 1 1/2 games behind the Cleveland Indians for the second berth as they begin a three-game series on Friday against the visiting Chicago White Sox.

Oakland reached the wild-card game last season after a 97-win season and figures it can reach the postseason again.

 

Matt Chapman, who is batting .264, leads Oakland with 21 homers and 52 RBIs, is one of seven Athletics in double digits in homers.

 

First baseman Matt Olson (19), designated hitter Khris Davis (16) and center fielder Ramon Laureano (16) are among the others for a squad that ranks fourth in the AL with 145 blasts.

 

The White Sox (42-44) don't pack a lot of power as they rank 13th in the AL with 103 homers. All-Star first baseman Jose Abreu has 21 with third baseman Yoan Moncada and left fielder Eloy Jimenez next with 16.

 

Jimenez, a 22-year-old rookie, is batting .241 but is loaded with promise. He called the first half of the season as a learning session.

 

The White Sox will start right-hander Ivan Nova (4-7, 5.58 ERA), who halted a seven-start winless stretch by beating the Chicago Cubs last Sunday.

 

The 32-year-old Nova allowed five hits over 5 2/3 scoreless innings to post his first victory since May 22.

 

Nova's ERA is third worst in the majors among qualifiers.

 

Nova is 2-0 with a 3.52 ERA in five career appearances (four starts) against Oakland.

The Athletics tabbed right-hander Mike Fiers (8-3, 3.87) to make the start.

 

The 34-year-old has won six consecutive decisions, a streak that began when he threw his second career no-hitter on May 7 against the Cincinnati Reds.

 

Fiers has allowed one earned run in each of his past four starts, including a July 3 effort against the Minnesota Twins in which he gave up two total runs and five hits over six innings.

 

Fiers is 2-0 with a 2.21 ERA in six career outings against the White Sox.

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