The Pittsburgh Pirates found their way back to the top of the NL Central standings with a victory over the Chicago Cubs in the opener of a four-game series. They will try to stay on track Friday, when they resume this set at PNC Park.
A 3-1 win over the Cubs on Thursday, coupled with a St. Louis loss to Milwaukee, enabled the Pirates to grab a share of first place in the division with the Cardinals. The Pirates have won four in a row since a four-game hiccup and starting pitcher Jeff Locke was solid through seven innings, allowing one run and three hits with five strikeouts and a walk.
"He was making his pitches and had really good command on his fastball and breaking ball," Cubs catcher Wellington Castillo said of Locke. "When a team like that gets hot, everybody gets hot. You have to give them credit. He made his pitches, and he was really good."
Tony Watson pitched a scoreless eighth inning and Mark Melancon worked around a hit in the ninth for his 14th save.
Offensively, the Pirates were led by Jordy Mercer, who ended 2-for-4 and drove in a run. Marlon Byrd and Pedro Alvarez had an RBI apiece for Pittsburgh, which already guaranteed its first winning season since 1992 and is on its last homestand (11 games) of the regular season.
The Pirates are 46-25 at PNC Park this season and also occupy the top spot in the NL wild card hunt. Since PNC Park opened in 2001, the only season in which the Pirates won as many as 45 games there was 2012 (45-36).
Hoping to keep the Pirates atop the NL Central Friday will be Charlie Morton. Morton had won three straight starts and four decisions in a row until Sunday's 9-2 loss at St. Louis, where he was reached for five runs in just 1 2/3 innings of work. Morton dropped to 7-4 in 16 starts with a 3.44 ERA.
Morton lost his only start to the Cubs this season on July 6 in a 4-1 decision at Wrigley Field and surrendered all four runs in six innings. The right- hander has made seven career starts against the Cubs and is 2-4 with a 5.80 ERA.
Chicago is 2-2 on an 11-game road trip and lost for the sixth time in 10 tries in the opener of this series in Pittsburgh.
Chris Rusin pitched well in the loss and was reached for two runs over seven innings with two K's and no walks. He scattered four hits in falling to 2-4 on the season and impressed manager Dale Sveum.
"Ever since he's got into the rotation, he's done pretty much a great job every outing," Sveum said.
Starlin Castro drove in the Cubs' only run in the third inning.
Jake Arrieta draws the start for Chicago Friday and he is 2-2 with a 4.28 earned run average in six starts since coming over from Baltimore. Arrieta has lost two of his last three appearances, including Saturday's 5-3 loss to the Brewers in which he yielded four runs in five innings.
Arrieta has given up 15 runs over his last four trips to the mound and has won both of his career starts against the Pirates.
The Cubs have lost eight of 13 meetings with the Pirates this season.