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Pirates making NL Central one of League’s most competitive

The Pittsburgh Pirates continue to move up in the National League Central standings and are now in second place just 2 ½ games behind the first place St. Louis Cardinals. Pittsburgh has played well winning 8 of their last 10 games overall to improve to 26-18 on the season. The Pirates to start the season lost five of their first six games.

Over the weekend, the Pirates won two of three games against the Houston Astros, after winning three of four against the Milwaukee Brewers.

On Sunday, Jeff Locke the Pirates southpaw shut down the majors’ worst club, as he allowed just three hits in seven innings against the Astros. The Pirates won the game 1-0 behind a home run by Pedro Alvarez, after dropping Saturday’s game 4-2 in 11 innings.

The win gives Locke four consecutive wins in his last four decisions. Locke now has allowed just one run or less in five of his last eight starts. He fanned four but walked three.

Over his last six starts, Locke has given up just 7 earned runs on 21 hits over a stretch of 37 innings for an ERA of just 1.70. Locke in the game allowed the leadoff hitter to reach base on four occasions, but only once did an Astros’ player reach second base.

Pittsburgh is now enjoying their best 44-game start to a season in 18 seasons. The Pirates own the third best overall record in the NL.

A concern to the team was the last minute scratch of all star Andrew McCutchen for Pittsburgh. The outfielder has experience soreness in his knee and was pulled from the lineup by manager Clint Hurdle.

McCutchen is key to the success of the Pirates and said he felt better after medical personnel examined him. He said he hoped to play on Tuesday in the Pirates next game.

Mark Melancon, had a 13-game scoreless streak snapped on Saturday, but had a perfect eighth inning against the Astros and Jason Grill will able to finish the Houston side 1-2-3 to get his 17th save, which leads the majors.

Pittsburgh will get an idea of how good they are over the next 17 days. The Pirates rest on Monday and then play 16 straight days. They start that stretch with three games versus the Chicago Cubs at home.

Overall, the Pirates are ranked 19th in runs scored, 21st in batting average , 21st in on base percentage and 18th in slugging percentage.

McCutchen is the offensive key for the Pirates and has 6 home runs and 23 RBIs, while Starling Marte has 5 home runs, 17 RBIs and leads the team with a .305 batting average.

With the way the Pirates are playing, the NL Central could become one of the most competitive divisions as the Cardinals, Pirates and Cincinnati Reds are all within 2 ½ games of one another.

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