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PIT@MIL: Morton fans six over seven strong innings

The regular-season finale of one of baseball's most intriguing matchups of 2013 will take place Sunday when the Cardinals play host to the Pirates in a National League Central clash at Busch Stadium.

With the Pirates seeking that elusive 82nd win for a fourth straight game, the focus for both clubs remains on finishing strong, and this one last meeting will determine just who will carry the division lead a little deeper into September.

The Cardinals took back the NL Central lead by a half-game over the Pirates with a victory Saturday, and they'll send rookie right-hander Michael Wacha to the mound against Pirates right-hander Charlie Morton on Sunday.

Heading in, the Pirates are 0-8 in their last eight series finales since beating the Marlins on Aug. 8, and this is one they could use as much as any one previous.

The Cardinals, who went 2-5 on their road trip to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, have enjoyed the home cooking this weekend with wins in the first two games of the three-game set.

"There's always the sort of ups and downs and the ebb and flow of the season," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said this weekend. "And you know, frankly, the last couple of days or the last part of that road trip didn't go great for us. But having said that, we're back home, we've got a lot of home games on our schedule, so I feel pretty good about where we are."

Wacha is making his sixth career start and 12th appearance in the Majors. He faced the Pirates on Aug. 14 in St. Louis, throwing two scoreless innings and striking out four of his six batters in relief.

Morton, meanwhile, has been the uncontested ace of the Pittsburgh rotation going on a month now. He has been consistently strong into the late innings each start, including his effort last time out against the Brewers in which he allowed one earned run in seven innings for his third straight victory.

"I feel like everything is there -- change and curve are better and more consistent in the zone -- and that's a plus when you can throw two offspeed pitches in the zone," Morton said. "I feel more comfortable with my approach, and what I'm working with, and how things have gone. I feel good -- finding an approach that's effective, and sticking with it."

Added manager Clint Hurdle: "He's continuing to grow, and that confidence he has on the mound shows. Charlie has gotten to a very good place."

Pirates: McCutchen doubles pleasure
In extending his hitting streak to six games Saturday, Andrew McCutchen collected his 35th double, tying his career high, first set in 2010. He is one homer shy of a 20-20 season and has 27 steals.

Since April 30, McCutchen leads all NL hitters with a .344 batting average (147-for-427).

• Pittsburgh has posted a 36-35 record on the road this season, one of only eight Major League teams with a winning road record in 2013. Their next road win would give them 37 for the first time since 1996.

Cardinals: Adams expected back vs. RHP
First baseman Matt Adams is likely to be back in the starting lineup Sunday with right-hander Morton on the mound. The Cardinals went with Brock Peterson vs. lefty Jeff Locke on Saturday, but manager Mike Matheny hopes he can get Adams facing more lefties down the stretch.

"I think when he's had regular at-bats he's seen lefties better," Matheny said. "When we just had sporadic opportunities for him and then try to throw him in there against a tough lefty starter and he hasn't really been in there on a consistent basis, it's a different at-bat.

"We're going to continue to get him in there obviously because we need him in there. It's almost like we need to get that ball rolling a little bit first and get some confidence going, get him feeling good about his swing and then we'll throw him in against lefties, righties, whoever."

Adams entered Saturday's game late after Locke left, going 0-for-2 with a strikeout and a popout.

• David Freese hit his second homer in three days Saturday after going 25 games without one.

Worth noting
• The Pirates have a 10-8 series advantage heading into the finale of the 19-game season series. They won last year's 15-game set, 8-7.

• After Sunday's finale, the Pirates will take a detour into Interleague Play with a trip to Texas to take on the contending Rangers. The Cardinals will have a home off-day Monday before the Brewers come to town Tuesday.

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