Cards, Pirates battle for top spot in NL Central

The Pittsburgh Pirates began their giant series with the St. Louis Cardinals looking like a team determined to end its lengthy playoff drought.

The Pirates now look to grab sole possession of first place in the NL Central on Saturday night and inch closer to securing their first winning season since 1992.

Pittsburgh came into Friday's opener of this three-game set trailing St. Louis by a game for first place. The Pirates, though, posted a statement-making 5-0 victory over their rivals, guided by Francisco Liriano's eight innings of two- hit ball.

Liriano won his career-high 15th game of the season, limiting the Cardinals to a pair of walks and striking out six.

"He's very determined right now," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Liriano.

Garrett Jones and Russell Martin both hit solo homers, with Jones driving in four runs with three hits.

The Pirates and Cards have identical 78-56 records as Pittsburgh eyes its first winning season and playoff berth since its 96-66 campaign in 1992.

Shelby Miller was touched for all five runs on eight hits with three walks and three strikeouts over 4 1/3 innings for St. Louis, which was also shut out 10-0 on Wednesday versus Cincinnati.

"I made some mistakes with some pitches and they put good swings on it," Miller said of his outing. "At the end of the day they just played better than us."

A.J. Burnett and Lance Lynn battled to a no-decision in an Aug. 15 meeting in St. Louis and square off again tonight for their respective clubs.

Burnett had held the Cardinals to three runs over 20 innings in his first three meetings with them this year, going 2-0, before giving up five runs over 4 1/3 frames in the last encounter.

All five runs allowed came in the bottom of the fifth inning after the Pirates had gotten to Lynn for four runs in the top of the frame. The St. Louis righty lasted 5 1/3 innings in the game, moving him to 2-0 with a 3.86 earned run average in four meetings this season with Pittsburgh.

That outing is part of a four-game winless stretch for Lynn, who is 0-3 with a 5.40 ERA in that time. The 26-year-old gave up four runs for a third start in a row in Sunday's 5-2 setback to Atlanta, falling to 13-8 with a 4.02 earned run average in 27 starts this year.

The right-handed Burnett has also hit a rough patch as of late. He allowed three earned runs or fewer in 19 of his first 20 starts on the season, but has given up four or more in three of his past four appearances.

Burnett is coming off a loss at San Francisco on Sunday, when he was charged with four runs on eight hits and three walks over 7 1/3 innings. The 36-year- old dropped to 6-9 with a 3.18 ERA on the season.

The Pirates are 9-5 versus the Cardinals this season.