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PIT@CHC: Karstens pitches five solid innings for win

Without question, this week's meeting between the Pirates and Dodgers will have a different feel from the last time the two teams met.

This four-game series, beginning Monday night at PNC Park in Pittsburgh (7:05 p.m. ET), pits two playoff contenders with far more riding on it than anyone expected would be the case when they first tangled in mid-April.

The Dodgers swept that three-game set, and the surprising Pirates will certainly need a different outcome if they are to keep pace with the first-place Reds in the National League Central. Pittsburgh, 4 1/2 games out of first place, is currently one of the two teams leading the way in the NL Wild Card standings. The Dodgers, fighting the Giants in the NL West, were 2 1/2 games behind Pittsburgh in the Wild Card after their Sunday victory.

Two right-handers will face off in the series opener, with Aaron Harang getting the ball for the Dodgers after a loss to the Rockies in his last outing. He gave up three earned runs on six hits in six innings, but two of the three runs charged to him were scored off of relievers.

Harang is 7-7 with a 3.80 ERA this year.

"He's kind of surprising, he really is," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said of Harang. "He's just better than you think. He just knows what he's doing. Quietly, he's been pretty solid for us."

Pittsburgh will go with the streaking Jeff Karstens, who has won four straight decisions since he lost the first game in his return to the Pirates rotation in late June.

He's 0-3 against the Dodgers, with a 5.25 ERA in six outings (five starts) but over his last three games, Karstens is 1-0 with 15 strikeouts in 16 innings.

He needed 84 pitches to work through four innings in his last outing, against the D-backs, but still finished with a quality start.

"I just couldn't make the pitches when I needed them, but it could have been a lot worse," he said afterward.

Dodgers: Hanley hot
• Thanks to a big series against his former team, Hanley Ramirez is riding a hot streak into the series against the Pirates. Ramirez, who was acquired by the Dodgers in a trade with the Marlins on July 25, went 6-for-13 with five RBIs against the Marlins over the weekend.

In 16 games with the Dodgers, Ramirez is hitting .274 with one homer, 15 RBIs and nine runs scored. He hit .246 with 14 homers, 48 RBIs and 49 runs in 93 games with the Marlins this year.

Pirates: Hot at home
• Pittsburgh has gone 25-10 in its last 35 games at home. The pitching at PNC Park has been phenomenal, as Pirates hurlers have held the opposition to two earned runs or less 33 times in the first 56 games at PNC Park.

• Prior to Sunday's game, the Pirates reinstated right-hander Juan Cruz from the disabled list (right shoulder inflammation), and his one scoreless inning on Sunday was his first appearance since July 17.

Worth noting
• The Dodgers outscored the Pirates, 9-4, in the three-game sweep in Los Angeles from April 10-12.

• Pittsburgh's opponents have scored at least one run in the first inning in each of the last six games and have homered in four straight. The Padres scored four in the first frame on Sunday afternoon.

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