Pirates-Phillies Preview

The Associated Press

The Pittsburgh Pirates are on the verge of winning their first series at Citizens Bank Park.

Cliff Lee may need some help from the rest of the Philadelphia Phillies if they're going to keep that from happening.

Starling Marte will try to continue his hot hitting at the top of the lineup and help the Pirates to a third straight win over the Phillies on Thursday in the finale of this four-game set.

Pittsburgh (12-9) has won four of its last five games in Philadelphia, equaling its total from the previous 24 visits. The Pirates haven't won a series there since taking two of three from April 4-6, 2003, in the Phillies' final season at Veterans Stadium.

They put themselves in position to win this one by scoring four runs in the final three innings to rally for a 5-3 victory Wednesday. Marte scored the go-ahead run on a pinch-hit single by Brandon Inge in the eighth before he padded the lead with an RBI triple in the final inning.

"We try to play until the end no matter the score," said third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who is 7 for 19 with four homers and six RBIs in his last six games. "That's a very good team, so it was a big win, huge really."

Marte leads Pittsburgh with a .329 average and is emerging as a serious threat in the leadoff spot after hitting .257 in 47 games as a rookie last year. The left fielder is batting .441 with four doubles, two triples, six runs and four stolen bases during an eight-game road hitting streak. That includes five hits - three for extra bases - and three steals in this series.

Marte is expected to get his first look at Lee (2-1, 2.83 ERA), who is trying to rebound from Saturday's 5-0 loss to St. Louis. The left-hander gave up five runs and three walks in five innings after compiling a 1.52 ERA while issuing one walk over his first three outings.

"Obviously, I had trouble out there commanding the ball," Lee told the team's official website. "Those guys all scored. I've got to do a better job commanding the strike zone."

Lee is 1-0 with a 3.05 ERA in three starts against the Pirates, winning the only one in Philadelphia on July 30, 2011.

Lee could use some help from the lineup, which has backed him with two runs over his last two games after scoring 10 over his first two.

The Phillies have been feast or famine at the plate during a 3-7 stretch, hitting .348 with 18 runs in those victories compared to .195 while scoring 10 times in the defeats.

Pittsburgh scheduled starter James McDonald (2-2, 4.12) has alternated wins and losses through his first four starts, but his latest appearance was impressive

He yielded one run and two hits with a season-high nine strikeouts and four walks in six innings of Saturday's 3-1 win over Atlanta. In an effort to help restore McDonald's confidence after he surrendered eight runs in 1 2-3 innings in a loss to St. Louis on April 15, catcher Russell Martin showed the right-hander highlights of him striking out batters.

"I was motivated after watching the video," McDonald said. "I wanted to go out and throw well."

He's 1-2 with a 6.10 ERA in four career starts versus the Phillies.

Chase Utley, who is 6 for 15 in his last four games, and Ryan Howard, who is 7 for 19 in his last five, have both his McDonald hard. Utley is 4 for 6 with a homer while Howard is 3 for 4 with a home run and double.

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