The Pirates won for just the third time in their last 10 games Monday to maintain a one-game lead over St. Louis in the National League Central.
And if Pittsburgh wants to stay in first place, the Pirates will have to take advantage of the NL West's fourth-place team while the Cardinals are trying to do the same against NL Central cellar dweller Milwaukee.
The Pirates and Padres continue their three-game series at Petco Park on Tuesday night, when Pittsburgh sends right-hander A.J. Burnett to the mound as the Pirates look to win consecutive games for the first time since a five-game winning streak from Aug. 3-8.
Burnett has not received much run support this season. Though Pittsburgh's offense has finally helped him of late, he squandered leads of 3-1 and 4-0 in his previous two starts while allowing 10 earned runs on 16 hits in that span.
"You can't let a team come back like that," Burnett said after his most recent start, against St. Louis. "As good as these guys are, it doesn't matter ... you got to put your foot down at some point."
The Pirates and the hot-hitting Andrew McCutchen -- who has tallied at least two hits in six of his last eight games -- face the Padres' best pitcher of late in right-hander Tyson Ross. Since rejoining the rotation in July, Ross has gone 3-1 with a 1.32 ERA and a .149 average against in five starts.
He has been especially dominant at home this year, sporting a 1.97 ERA at Petco Park compared with a 3.06 mark on the road.
Ross got a firsthand look at the Pirates in Monday's loss, closely watching Andrew Cashner in the series opener. The two righties are similar, so Ross said he usually builds his game plan around what does or does not work for Cashner.
"It gives me an opportunity to watch a similar pitcher to myself the day before me," Ross said. "It's a rare opportunity -- to have an advanced scouting report like that."
Pirates: Leading off
Outfielder Starling Marte has scored a Major League-leading 79 runs from the leadoff spot, the most by a Pirate since Al Martin scored 94 in 1999. Marte also leads all NL leadoff hitters with 133 hits.
• McCutchen is hitting .431 with four doubles, two home runs and 10 RBIs this month. His next homer will be the 100th of his career.
Padres: Pittsburgh providing model
Like the Pirates, San Diego is a small-market team. But the Pirates -- like many before them -- are proving that small-market clubs can be successful on the field without spending a lot of money off it. Their gradual success has caught the eye of Padres manager Bud Black, who hopes his club can follow suit.
"They've done a nice job in a lot of areas to put this group together here," Black said. "Last year, they got closer with a great first half. The second half didn't quite go their way, but there's no doubt that a lot of us in smaller markets are trying to do those things."
• Black said Monday that outfielder Carlos Quentin (strained right knee) had a 50-50 chance of returning this season.
• Will Venable went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts Monday to end his Major League-leading hitting streak at 15 games.
• Monday was the first meeting between the Padres and the Pirates at Petco Park since a San Diego sweep almost one year ago (Aug. 20-22).
• Pirates second baseman Neil Walker is hitting .339 in his last 14 games.