The Pirates have been in first place a couple of times over the past three seasons, but this is the first time that I can remember that they've managed to hold on to first place for more than a few days at a time. In the past, the Pirates would surge into first with a stretch of good play, then give a few games back and immediately fall behind the Reds or Cardinals or Brewers. After taking first place from the Cardinals a week ago by sweeping last Tuesday's double-header, the Pirates have held on by winning four of the six games played since. Currently, they hold a two-game lead over the Cardinals.
With a three-game set in St. Louis next week, these six games against the Marlins and Rockies are pretty important. If they can win four or five of these games, that means that there's a really good chance that they'll be in first place when the St. Louis series ends no matter what, which means that at the mid-point of August, the Pirates will have played eight games against the Cardinals this month and they'll be in first place. You can see how a small lead becomes a big one as the clock ticks towards the end of the season.
These Marlins are no pushovers, of course. They beat the Pirates twice in Miami just over a week ago, and they have some pretty good young players that are starting to play much better baseball. Tonight, they face Henderson Alvarez, who completely shut them down last time they faced him. Jeff Locke, who hasn't really looked all that sharp of late as his control seems shakier every time he takes the mound, goes for the Pirates. The first pitch is at 7:05.