The Pittsburgh Pirates have more significant goals than securing their first winning season in two decades, and a victory in their next game would also help them move closer toward accomplishing one of those feats.
While trying for their 82nd win, the Pirates will seek to pad their NL Central lead by getting past red-hot Joe Kelly and the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday night in the opener of the final series between the clubs this season.
Pittsburgh (81-58) has already stopped its streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons - the longest in North American professional sports history - but needs one more victory to clinch its first winning campaign since 1992.
That season included the franchise's most recent division title. The Pirates head into this series with a 1 1/2-game edge over St. Louis (80-60) and three-game advantage on Cincinnati in the Central.
"We are trying to win every day," center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. "Every game is important from the first to the last. So we don't treat it any differently from any other game. We go out every day to win. That is what we are going to do in St. Louis."
The Pirates have won 10 of 16 meetings this season and took two of three at home last weekend. A.J. Burnett (7-9, 3.09 ERA) won the middle game of that series Saturday, allowing one run over seven innings in a 7-1 victory.
"That's a pretty good lineup, so I'm just trying to keep the ball down, get ahead ... then expand the strike zone a bit," Burnett told the team's official website. "But you can't let down against that lineup, because that's when they get you."
Burnett is 3-0 with a 2.59 ERA in five starts against St. Louis this season but has a 6.10 ERA in two at Busch Stadium. He gave up five runs in a season-low 4 1-3 innings in a 6-5 loss there Aug. 15.
Burnett will likely need a better outing Friday as he'll be opposed by Kelly, who is 7-0 with a 2.16 ERA in 10 starts since joining the rotation July 6.
Kelly (7-3, 2.82) is 2-0 with a 0.75 ERA against the Pirates during that stretch, and he gave up one run over six innings in a 7-2 victory in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Kelly's most recent victory is among only two in the last eight games for St. Louis, and the Cardinals enter this series after dropping three of four in Cincinnati. They're batting .185 with 17 runs during that 2-6 stretch and had five hits in a 6-2 loss Thursday.
"It's the time of the season," manager Mike Matheny said. "There are times when you don't hit. This has lasted a little longer than you'd like, but that could be a sign that we're ready to click and take off."
Allen Craig , who leads St. Louis with 97 RBIs, will likely miss this series because of an ailing foot. The Cardinals, though, caught a break Thursday when X-rays did not reveal a fracture.
Matt Carpenter will try to make up for Craig's absence by improving his .400 career average (8 for 20) against Burnett. The second baseman is batting .391 (9 for 23) in five games this month and .407 (11 for 27) in his last six matchups with Pittsburgh.
The recently acquired Marlon Byrd is batting .417 in his last seven games against St. Louis.
|August 27, 2013||Kyle McPherson||60-Day DL||Recovery from right elbow surgery|
|August 19, 2013||Starling Marte||15-Day DL||Right hand contusion|
|August 19, 2013||Starling Marte||Day-to-Day||Right hand contusion|
|August 11, 2013||Starling Marte||Day-to-Day||Left game - left hand|
|July 28, 2013||Travis Snider||15-Day DL||Left big toe discomfort|
|July 28, 2013||Michael McKenry||60-Day DL||Left knee surgery - out for season|
|St. Louis Cardinals|
|September 04, 2013||Allen Craig||Day-to-Day||Sprained left foot|
|August 22, 2013||Jake Westbrook||15-Day DL||Lower back strain|
|August 15, 2013||Tony Cruz||15-Day DL||Stress fracture, left forearm|
|August 15, 2013||Tony Cruz||15-Day DL||Stress fracture, left forearm|
|August 11, 2013||Carlos Beltran||Day-to-Day||Right foot contusion|
|August 07, 2013||Shelby Miller||Day-to-Day||Right elbow contusion|
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Joe Kelly acted like an ace who's been here before, oblivious to the pennant race and working out of jams. The St. Louis Cardinals rediscovered their offense, too.
Carlos Beltran had RBIs his first two at-bats to help chase A.J. Burnett early and Kelly beat the Pittsburgh Pirates for the third straight time in a 12-8 rout Friday night that pulled the Cardinals within a half-game of the NL Central leaders.
"You've just got to make pitches when you need to," Kelly said. "I just tried to battle ... and make pitches when I needed to."
Burnett (7-10) gave up five runs in three innings, his shortest outing of the year, and the Cardinals opened a seven-run seventh with nine straight hits off three relievers including Yadier Molina 's three-run homer off Bryan Morris . The Pirates have lost two straight, both blowouts, and remain a win shy of clinching their first winning season since 1992.
"I felt like I could have stayed out there longer and kept us in it, but that's not my choice, not my decision," Burnett said. "But you've got to take one positive from tonight and that's this team and what they did to the final out."
Manager Clint Hurdle said the 82nd win will probably mean most to Neil Walker "growing up a Pittsburgh kid."
"He had some emotion the other night and there's some guys on the coaching staff, but I mean, it's part of the game," Hurdle added. "It's a mile marker on the road."
Kelly (8-3) has been the stopper lately for a struggling rotation, winning five straight starts. He's 8-0 with a 2.10 ERA in 11 appearances since getting the fifth spot in late June and then waiting 14 days because of days off in the schedule to make that start.
Leadoff man Matt Carpenter tripled and doubled to tie Albert Pujols ' season record of 98 hits in 2008 at 8-year-old Busch Stadium, also his major league high 55th multihit game. Jon Jay , coming off a 1-for-20 trip, had three hits and three RBIs.
"Wow, I wasn't aware of that," Carpenter said. "That's pretty cool. I thought we just did a real good job of grinding out at-bats and being aggressive in the strike zone.
"They made some mistakes over the plate and we did a real good job of taking advantage."
The Pirates have scored two runs in 18 innings against Kelly. The only thing the right-hander hasn't done is save the bullpen, working six innings in each of his last five starts with a season best of 6 1-3 innings.
Pittsburgh had five baserunners and no runs the first two innings and stranded 10 runners in six innings against Kelly, who allowed one run and eight hits. Pedro Alvarez , who grounded out with the bases loaded to end the first, had an RBI single in the fifth.
The Cardinals led 12-1 after seven innings but needed Edward Mujica to get the final out for his 36th save in 39 chances. Josh Harrison hit a two-run pinch-hit homer off Jake Westbrook in a four-run eighth and Jose Tabata hit a two-run double off Carlos Martinez in a three-run ninth before Harrison flied out with two men on to end a game that lasted 3 hours and 47 minutes.
The Cardinals rebounded from a 2-5 trip in which they scored two or fewer runs five times, one of them against Burnett in a 7-1 loss Aug. 31. Burnett had been 3-0 with a 2.59 ERA in five starts against the Cardinals, but facing them in consecutive starts led to his fastest exit since he allowed 12 earned runs in 2 2-3 innings, including two homers and seven RBIs by Beltran, in a 12-3 loss May 2, 2012, also in St. Louis.
"I don't make pitches here or I haven't," Burnett said. "I will, I will. When I missed tonight, I missed middle."
Carpenter tripled to open a three-run third and Jay, Matt Holliday and Beltran followed with RBI doubles for a 5-0 lead. The Cardinals started fast in the first with a walk and two singles the first four at-bats.
"I think we could all tell early on his command wasn't really used to what we're used to seeing from him," Carpenter said of Burnett.
The first four hitters in the Cardinals order totaled 10 hits and eight RBIs.
NOTES: Cardinals reliever John Axford was ejected in the eighth after hitting pinch-hitter Tony Sanchez with a pitch after warnings were issued earlier in the game, with manager Mike Matheny also getting the boot. ... Eighth-place hitter Daniel Descalso doubled to open the seventh and flied out for the first out. The Cardinals were three hits shy of matching the major league record of 12 straight hits to start an inning by St. Louis on Sept. 17, 1920, against the Boston Braves and Brooklyn on June 23, 1930, against the Pirates. ... Pete Kozma of the Cardinals had an infield hit in the seventh to end an 0-for-33 slump.