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Marlins-Pirates Preview

AP - Sports

While arguably no one's been hotter than Andrew McCutchen of late, the Pittsburgh Pirates' Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez are also becoming of some well-deserved acclaim.

Winner of 14 of 19, Pittsburgh looks to keep things going Saturday night in the second of three games with the visiting Miami Marlins.

Sitting one-half game behind Cincinnati in the NL Central, Pittsburgh (52-40) is starting to look more and more like a serious contender. The Pirates have scored a major league-leading 126 runs while batting .302 during a 14-5 run since June 27, with much of the credit understandably going to McCutchen.

The All-Star outfielder is batting .451 with 12 homers, 32 RBIS and 34 runs over his last 33 games, though he's hardly solely responsible for Pittsburgh's recent surge. Walker is batting .459 during the last 19 games and Alvarez has hit seven homers to go along with 21 RBIs in his last 17.

McCutchen had two hits while Walker and Alvarez both went deep during Friday's 4-3 win. Kevin Correia was a bit shaky before the bullpen threw four scoreless innings to seal the win.

"This is a really resilient group," Walker said. "We feel confident no matter who is out on the mound."

The Pirates now turn to A.J. Burnett (10-3, 3.78 ERA), who gave up four runs and nine hits over seven innings Sunday during a 4-1 loss at Milwaukee.

"That's probably the best stuff I've had in a long time," he told the team's official website. "I tried to minimize the damage the best I could."

While the veteran right-hander has run into trouble on the road, he's been superb at home, going 6-0 with a 2.10 ERA over nine starts. He's yielded two runs or fewer in all but one of those outings.

Burnett, who spent the first seven years of his career with the Marlins (44-49), has only faced his former team once. He yielded two runs and five hits over 6 1-3 innings of a 2-1 road loss June 20, 2009, while with the New York Yankees.

Burnett will look to add to Miami's recent woes. The Marlins have dropped three in a row while going 1 for 23 with runners in scoring position, including an 0-for-8 effort Friday.

"It seems like we're rewinding a movie," manager Ozzie Guillen said. "We have a few opportunities and we don't get it done early, and then late we have more opportunities and we can't get it done.

"We had how many hits, 13 hits ... and we only got three runs? We don't have any choice. We have to be better with people in scoring position."

The Marlins try to bounce back behind Carlos Zambrano (5-7, 4.22), who had gone 0-4 with an 8.00 ERA over six starts before beating Washington 5-3 on Monday. He allowed three runs, eight hits and four walks over six innings, throwing just 49 of his 94 pitches for strikes.

Since posting a 3-1 record with a 1.65 ERA over his first six road outings, the right-hander has gone 0-2 with a 6.50 ERA in four starts away from home.

Zambrano, who hasn't faced the Pirates this season, enjoyed plenty of success at PNC Park during his time with the Chicago Cubs. He went 8-1 with a 3.45 ERA in his last 12 starts at Pittsburgh.

Garrett Jones is 6 for 14 with two homers against Zambrano, while McCutchen and Alvarez are a combined 9 for 20.

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