Venue: Marlins Park
The Miami Marlins finally are playing the type of baseball they envisioned after entering this season with high expectations.
If their recent dominance of the Pittsburgh Pirates is a factor, they shouldn't have much trouble staying hot.
With eight straight wins over Pittsburgh, Miami seeks an 11th victory in its last 13 games overall when it hosts the opener of a two-game set Monday night.
The Marlins (18-16) started slowly, fighting through outspoken manager Ozzie Guillen's five-game suspension and the struggles of high-priced closer Heath Bell.
They lost eight of nine April 20-30, but have since won 10 of 12 after Sunday's 8-4 come-from-behind victory over the New York Mets.
Bell came in with the score tied at 2 in the top of the ninth inning and gave up two runs to up his ERA to a whopping 10.03, but he ended up getting the win. Miami scored six times in the bottom of the ninth, concluding with Giancarlo Stanton's walkoff grand slam.
Stanton went 7 for 13 in the series and is batting .351 while hitting safely in 14 of his last 15 games.
Miami's offense has helped a starting rotation that possesses a 3.16 ERA that ranks among the best in the majors.
"We're where we're at because of our pitching," said catcher John Buck, who hit a two-run homer in the seventh Sunday. "It's kind of nice to have the bats speak up a bit."
Anibal Sanchez (2-0, 2.01 ERA) will take the mound after he allowed two unearned runs over seven innings in Miami's 3-2 loss to Houston on Tuesday that ended the team's seven-game winning streak.
The right-hander, who has gone seven innings in each of his last four starts, is 2-1 with a 1.64 ERA in three starts against Pittsburgh. His most recent look at them was one of his best outings in the majors, a one-hitter in which he struck out 11 while winning 3-0 on Sept. 10.
The Marlins' offense has provided plenty of support during the team's winning streak over the Pirates, outscoring them 48-12.
Pittsburgh (16-18) is hitting .175 against Miami in that span, and its offense hasn't been much better against the rest of the league.
The Pirates' 97 runs rank last in baseball, and the lack of offense has done little to help a pitching staff with a stellar 3.15 ERA.
A.J. Burnett allowed two runs in eight innings before Josh Harrison delivered an RBI single in the 12th to give Pittsburgh a 3-2 win over Houston on Sunday.
Left-hander Erik Bedard was scheduled to face the Marlins on Monday, but he's yet to fully recover from back spasms that forced him to leave after the first inning of Wednesday's 4-2 win over Washington.
Brad Lincoln (2-0, 0.63) earned the victory in that contest after allowing one unearned run and one hit in three innings, and he'll make his first start of the season in Bedard's place.
The right-hander, who is 3-7 with a 5.54 ERA in 17 career starts, has pitched only a scoreless inning of relief against the Marlins.
Florida shortstop Jose Reyes is hitting .340 over his last 13 contests, and he's been even better versus Pittsburgh. Reyes is batting .411 with 15 multihit games in his last 22 against the Pirates.
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