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PITTSBURGH -- Say what you will about the Pittsburgh Pirates' questionable moves at the trade deadline or the poor numbers former National League Most Valuable Player Andrew McCutchen has had most of the season.

Right now, things are looking up.

Going into what could be a wild-card showdown against the Miami Marlins starting Friday at PNC Park, the Pirates are en fuego.

Pittsburgh (62-56), which was off Thursday, just completed a 5-1 West Coast road trip - including a three-game sweep in San Francisco. Since June 24, the Pirates' 28-17 record is the best in baseball.

They stand one game behind St. Louis for the second wild-card spot, and 1 1/2 games ahead of Miami (62-59) in that chase after the Marlins dropped a 5-4 decision at Cincinnati on Thursday night.

"We've been a confident group all year. Road trips like this really bring a team together," Pittsburgh closer Tony Watson told MLB.com. "We're playing great baseball right now. Playing well down the stretch has been key the last few years. ... This year is no different."

McCutchen's two-run homer Thursday, his 17th of the season, was huge in a 6-5 win over the Giants. Although he is batting .248 overall, McCutchen's average in August is .317.

"I've turned something," McCutchen told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "I don't know if it's turning a page or a corner or something. Things are going well for us. Going well for me, too.

"I've been getting pitches to hit, hitting them, having good at-bats, seeing the ball. They try to hit a location. Miss a location, I'm able to make them pay."

An unexpected bump in the Pirates' good play recently is right-hander Gerrit Cole (7-8, 3.17 ERA), who is scheduled to start Friday. The presumed ace of the staff entering the season has dealt with some inconsistency and injuries.

In his past two starts, Cole is 0-2, has failed to get through the sixth inning and has given up a combined nine runs on 15 hits. However, he could be aided by being at home, where he has a 2.94 ERA over his past nine starts.

The Marlins are not as comfortable at PNC Park, where they are 16-31.

On Friday, Miami will start right-hander Tom Koehler (9-8, 3.86 ERA), who is 0-4 with a 5.73 ERA in four career starts against the Pirates.

However, Koehler has been arguably the Marlins' best starter of late. In his past five starts, he is 3-0 with a 1.36 ERA.

"It's not like he doesn't have good stuff," Miami manager Don Mattingly told reporters earlier this month. "His stuff is good.

"He's got a good breaking ball that most guys don't really hit. He can change speeds and he's a little erratic. He can be effectively wild. You don't quite know what you're going to get with Tom. To me, that's part of his success."

Success that hasn't been matched team-wide lately. Miami has lost three straight games, three series in a row and four of its past five series.

The Pirates, meanwhile, have won four consecutive series and could put some distance between themselves and the Marlins in the wild-card scenario this weekend.

"Obviously, this is the time of year teams make or break themselves," Pittsburgh's Matt Joyce told MLB.com. "It's nice to see some guys turn the corner and keep fighting and keep pushing, because it's very easy to just say, 'We're not in the race,' and just kind of roll over. It's exciting, man. It's exciting to be a part of, and we're having a lot of fun."