Although there are almost two months left in the season, the inevitable talk surrounding the possibility of upstart Pittsburgh reaching the playoffs has already commenced -- just not in the clubhouse.
"We really need to stay focused on what we can control," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Our attitude and our effort and our execution -- those are things that we can control to some degree. We've got to stay focused on our job. There's too many moving parts out there. It doesn't make any sense to me to get emotionally tied to anything other than what you need to be emotionally tied to, and that's your individual responsibility aimed toward the collective gain of the club.
"I do believe that's where our guys are. You can't disassociate yourself from the scoreboard. They're big, and they're out there, and there's enough dead time during the game where you can catch yourself glancing at them. But so much of that is just completely out of your control that we continue to talk about staying focused on our game, pitch by pitch, inning by inning."
Of course, the Padres aren't just going to roll over and hand the Pirates the series. The Padres have played stellar baseball of late, winning five straight, including Friday's series opener.
The wins have come as a new-look lineup has come together. John Baker has played well at catcher since Nick Hundley was optioned to Triple-A on June 30 -- Hundley returned to the big league club on Friday -- and Alexi Amarista and Everth Cabrera give the Padres different middle infielders than the pair that started Opening Day.
"We're playing much better," manager Bud Black said. "We made some personnel changes in the middle of the diamond and [have used] a new catcher. Our position play solidified after that, and our pitching has picked up."
Padres: Marquis looks to continue winning ways
Veteran pitcher Jason Marquis takes the hill on Saturday looking to continue a hot streak. The right-hander has won four of his past five starts, and Baker, who caught him last time out against the Mets, said that his stuff is as impressive as any sinkerballer's.
"He's got such a good sinker. ... And when it's on, it's really difficult," Baker said. "You had guys on the Mets saying they don't usually see sinkers like that. You see balls going sideways, but you don't usually see balls go straight down."
Pirates: Burnett builds toward career-high wins
Having perhaps the best season of his career, veteran A.J. Burnett takes the mound for the Pirates on Saturday as he approaches his career high of 18 wins, set in 2008 with the Blue Jays. At 14-3, Burnett is having a resurgent campaign, and if the season ended for him after his previous start, his 3.19 ERA would be a new career low.
On Friday night, outfielder Travis Snider hit his first home run with the Pirates since the team acquired him prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Snider is hitting .333 with five RBIs in 10 games with the Pirates.
Burnett is 1-4 with a 4.54 ERA in five career starts against the Padres, but the one win was a no-hitter, in 2001, while he was with the Marlins.