The Pirates are playing their best baseball when it matters most. Pittsburgh, knotted with St. Louis at the top of the National League Central, will play host to the Padres for a four-game series this week, and the Pirates will come into Monday's opener with six wins in their last seven games.
The Pirates got a victory Sunday with their starting pitcher -- Francisco Liriano -- taking a no-hit bid into the seventh inning and with a pinch-hitter -- Justin Morneau -- coming through with the decisive hit. Morneau, acquired from Minnesota on Aug. 31, is batting .279 (12-for-43) with Pittsburgh.
Monday's series opener will bring an interesting pitching matchup in Andrew Cashner and A.J. Burnett. Cashner, who was slowed in Spring Training by an offseason thumb injury, has gone 9-8 with a 3.40 ERA this season, and he's completed at least six innings in 18 of his last 21 starts.
Burnett has given the Pirates 27 starts this season, and he's allowed just nine home runs. The right-hander has been especially good at home, where he's logged a 4-3 record and a 2.32 ERA in 12 outings. Burnett, in two seasons with the Pirates, has gone 24-20 with a 3.49 ERA.
The Pirates and Cardinals are both 87-62, and whichever team loses out in the division would currently lead the race for the NL Wild Card. The Padres, meanwhile, are fighting neck-and-neck with division rivals Colorado and San Francisco to stay out of last place in the NL West.
Pittsburgh has won two straight games by a one-run margin, and the Pirates have more one-run victories (28) than all but one other team in the NL (The Diamondbacks have 31). Pittsburgh has been especially efficient at home, where it has logged an 18-7 record in one-run games.
The Padres are the only remaining team the Pirates will play outside of their own division in the regular season. Pittsburgh will play host to the Reds after the Padres and then will travel for road series in Chicago and Cincinnati.
The Padres will return home for a pair of series against the Dodgers and D-backs after they leave Pittsburgh, and then they'll close out the season with a road series against the Giants.
Padres: Venable closing with flourish
The Padres have only one player -- third baseman Chase Headley -- with more than 500 plate appearances this season, but they have five players with more than 10 home runs. Outfielder Will Venable, batting .274, leads San Diego in homers (22), runs (61) and RBIs (52).
Venable, 30 years old, has been especially good in the second half, batting .337 (66-for-196) with 11 homers and 31 runs in 51 games played. Venable has seen most of his power production come at home, though, and he's hit just 10 doubles and seven homers in 67 games on the road.
Pirates: Byrd spreading wings in Pittsburgh
Morneau hasn't been the only late-season boost to the Pirates' lineup. Veteran outfielder Marlon Byrd has batted .333 (22-for-66) with seven doubles and eight runs scored since being acquired from the Mets, and he's hit safely in 15 of his first 17 games in the Pittsburgh lineup.
Byrd will carry a seven-game hitting streak into the series opener against the Padres, and he's helped lengthen the Pittsburgh lineup during the stretch run. Byrd has batted No. 5 for the Pirates -- right behind cleanup man Andrew McCutchen -- in 14 of his first 18 games.
• The Padres are six games (3-3) into a stretch of 20 games in 20 days to close out the season.
• San Diego closed out its campaign against East division teams with a 16-17 record.
• The Padres don't have any pitchers with 10 wins, but their closer -- Huston Street -- has saved 30 games.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.