Hosting the NL wild-card game for a third straight year would seem like a major accomplishment for a club that finished under .500 in each of the previous 20 seasons.

The Pittsburgh Pirates aren't settling for playing second fiddle to the St. Louis Cardinals, though.

Pittsburgh looks to cut into the Cardinals' NL Central lead as it begins the second of three straight series against division leaders Tuesday night in St. Louis.

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The Pirates (65-44) have the best record in baseball since May 9 at 52-28, but MLB-leading St. Louis (71-40) has maintained its advantage by going 49-33 in that span.

The Cardinals have doubled their Central lead since the All-Star break after the Pirates pulled to within 2 1/2 games with three straight victories over St. Louis to close out the first half. Pittsburgh gained a game Sunday, completing a sweep of NL West-leading Los Angeles with a 13-6 victory while the Cardinals had a four-game winning snapped with a 5-4 loss at Milwaukee.

Pittsburgh, which visits NL East-leading New York for three following this series, holds the first wild card by 3 1/2 games over Chicago.

Andrew McCutchen hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning to begin Pittsburgh's rally from a four-run deficit Sunday. McCutchen, batting .563 with two homers and two doubles over his last five, has recorded at least a hit in nine games as Pittsburgh and St. Louis have split 10 meetings.

He hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the 14th to give the Pirates a 6-5 win July 11. Gregory Polanco's RBI hit in the 10th beat the Cardinals by the same score the following night just before the break.

"I wouldn't say we're making a statement. That series is over with," McCutchen told MLB's official website. "We've got a new one coming up. They're going to be ready to go, and so are we."

St. Louis won the opener of that series as Carlos Martinez (11-4, 2.57 ERA) struck out eight in 7 1-3 scoreless innings of a 4-1 victory July 9. Martinez also had one of his worst outings against Pittsburgh, though, as he allowed a career high-tying seven runs and walked four in 5 1-3 innings of a 7-5 loss May 9.

The right-hander opposed Jeff Locke in last month's start and will do so again in this contest. Locke (6-6, 4.31) gave up four runs - one earned - in five innings of that outing and has posted a 6.32 ERA over his last three starts.

Locke allowed five runs - four earned - and walked five in three innings of a 6-4 loss Sept. 2 the last time he pitched at Busch Stadium.

Matt Carpenter is 2 for 11 against Locke, but he's been a force since being moved back into the leadoff spot July 30. Carpenter has batted .375 with seven homers, five doubles and a 1.457 OPS in those 10 games after homering in the final two against Milwaukee over the weekend.

Carpenter hit .152 in his previous 13 before the switch.

''I think it just proves to him that (moving to the top of the order) wasn't necessarily a fluke and what he's got to do to get back into that kind of groove," manager Mike Matheny said. "He changes the rhythm of our offense. He sets the tone and puts together good at-bats. He's a game-changer right now."

The Cardinals have won 17 of the last 20 meetings at Busch Stadium, including playoffs, after sweeping the Pirates there May 1-3. McCutchen has batted .125 in his last five in St. Louis.