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Pirates Vs. Astros: Pittsburgh Looks To Hold First Place In National League Central Standings

In case you missed it, the Pirates stormed to the very top of the National League Central standings on Friday night when Jeff Karstens pitched a shutout on just 83 pitches to beat the Houston Astros 4-0 at Minute Maid Park. Andrew McCutchen had a key two-run triple in the third, and that proved to be all Karstens, who moved to third in the National League in ERA, would need.

The Bucs are now in front of the Milwaukee Brewers by a half game, and the St. Louis Cardinals by percentage points in the division standings. With a record of 48-43, this is the latest the Pirates have been atop the division since 1997.

Tonight's matchup in Houston will pit the Bucs' Paul Maholm against the Astros' Bud Norris. In seven career starts against Pittsburgh, Norris has been effective to the tune of a 3.74 ERA and whopping 52 strikeouts. Project that out to a full season of starts (roughly 35) and Norris would strike out over 350 Pirates.

The good news for the Bucs, though, is that Paul Maholm has a solid history against Houston. In 19 starts, he owns and 11-6 record with a 3.22 ERA, and in two starts against the 'stros this season, he's conceded just two earned runs in 13 innings.

In the division tonight, St. Louis will be at Cincinnati, and Milwaukee, which dropped to 15 games below .500 on the road last night, will play the second game of a set with the Colorado Rockies.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.