Pirates-Twins Preview

No strangers to the wild-card game, the Pittsburgh Pirates might find themselves in another win-or-go-home scenario come October.

So could the Minnesota Twins.

The Twins may already be home by that point if their lineup struggles as much as it has to begin the second half, but Minnesota has a good chance to break out Tuesday night as it faces Charlie Morton to open this two-game series with the visiting Pirates.

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Pittsburgh (57-41) was four games under .500 after dropping both contests to Minnesota (52-46) at PNC Park two months ago, but it's since gone a major league-best 39-19.

Amazingly, that's only been good enough to make up a few games on St. Louis. Clint Hurdle's club has baseball's third-best record, but with the Cardinals comfortably ahead in the Central, Pittsburgh may find itself in the wild-card game for a third consecutive season.

That's a destination the Twins would welcome after four straight seasons with 70 or fewer wins. Only one of what was a four-game lead for the AL's second wild-card spot has been shaved off despite Minnesota's 3-6 record since the All-Star break.

The Twins were held to two or fewer runs for the fifth time in eight games in Sunday's 7-2 loss to the New York Yankees, dropping the series after winning 10-1 on Friday and leading 5-0 on Saturday.

''You get the first game and you get a little greedy," manager Paul Molitor said. "We let one slip away (Saturday), and sometimes those things carry over somewhat. So you take your medicine, you lose the series and you move on.''

Minnesota's .283 average with runners in scoring position in the first half was sixth best in baseball, but Molitor's club is coming through at a .200 clip in the second half. Rookie Miguel Sano, who went 14 for 37 with a 1.138 OPS in his first 11 major league games, is 3 for 23 since the break.

Sano is hitting .350 with 11 walks against right-handers, though, and he'll see a vulnerable one Tuesday. Morton (6-4, 4.59 ERA) won his first five starts with a 1.62 ERA, but he's posted a 7.76 ERA in his last six.

Four of the five runs he was charged with over 6 2-3 innings in Wednesday's 5-1 loss at Kansas City came in the seventh, including Mike Moustakas' three-run shot that ended Morton's evening.

"I probably had the best stuff I've had all year," Morton, who has never faced Minnesota, told MLB's official website. "That last inning ruined an otherwise good outing. That seems to have happened a lot this year."

The Pirates took three of four from Washington after starting the second half 1-5, but aside from Jung Ho Kang (.400 since the break) and Starling Marte (.385) they're having some trouble at the plate. Pittsburgh is among baseball's leaders in strikeouts with 102 since the All-Star Game and has the second-fewest walks with 17.

The good news for the Pirates is they'll be facing a pitcher who's allowed the highest opponents' on-base percentage (.360) of any qualified starter. Mike Pelfrey (5-7, 3.94) surrendered 11 more baserunners and four runs - two earned - over six innings Wednesday in a 5-2 loss in Anaheim.

In more bad news, the right-hander has been much better at Target Field, where he's posted a 2.22 ERA in eight starts, and in one of his rare successful road outings he held the Pirates to a run over six innings May 20.

Aramis Ramirez, 0 for 7 so far in his second stint with Pittsburgh, is a career .186 (13 for 70) hitter at Target Field.