National League Central foes St. Louis and Pittsburgh will meet on the banks of the Allegheny River again on Saturday in a 7:05 p.m. ET game between two clubs still looking for a bit of traction.
The Pirates, already on their first three-game winning streak this season, seek to push it to four and ensure a sixth consecutive non-losing home series against the Cardinals. St. Louis is trying to keep from falling back below .500 and even its road trip record at 4-4. Lance Lynn will square off against Edinson Volquez in the middle game between the clubs.
As both teams seek positive momentum, managers Clint Hurdle and Mike Matheny continue to eye ways to jump-start their respective clubs. Tinkering with the lineup has been one of them.
Hurdle's decision to move outfielder Starling Marte out of the leadoff spot last week has paid early dividends, as Marte has gone 13-for-38 with eight strikeouts in nine games as the team's No. 5 hitter. That is in comparison to a 13-for-68 stretch with 25 strikeouts Marte had in his previous 15 games batting leadoff.
On Friday, Hurdle said, for the first time, that he would prefer to leave Marte in the middle of the order for the long term.
"If we can get ample coverage in the leadoff spot by other men -- I do think he presents a nice dynamic for us hitting between the two left-handers [Pedro Alvarez and Ike Davis]," Hurdle said. "He's the only one who's been holding his ground there.
For his part, Marte said his prime motive is to still just get on base, but he allowed that being in the middle of the order lets him use his natural aggressiveness without concern about taking pitches and walks.
The Cardinals' lineup has been hardly static this year, either. In particular, Matheny has been seeking a way to spark Allen Craig, batting the slugger anywhere from the second to sixth -- though the latter was the spot from which Craig blasted a three-run homer as part of a two-hit game on Friday.
Ideally, the Cardinals would like to inch Craig back up to the cleanup spot, though not until his production is more consistent.
"A couple hits today," Matheny said after Friday's loss, "is hopefully something he'll carry into tomorrow."
Both offenses remain in the bottom half of the National League in runs scored. The Pirates rank eighth with 140 runs, while the Cardinals are 10th with 131.
Cardinals: Defensive improvement showing
One of the stated season goals for the Cardinals was to improve defensively. And while the club has had some costly errors and misplays over the first 36 games of the season, the early returns do show St. Louis is much improved in the field from last season's team.
The Cardinals arrived in Pittsburgh with all of their starting position players boasting a positive figure in the category of defensive runs scored. Leading the club with plus-five runs saved were both Jhonny Peralta and Matt Adams. In total, the Cardinals, according to fangraphs.com, had saved 25 runs with their defense heading into the series. In comparison, last year's 97-win club had a negative-39 defensive runs saved.
"I think that's an interesting one in that, I think, if you ask most of our guys, I don't think they think we've played the kind of defense that we can play," Matheny said when informed of the improved numbers. "Right now, I know it comes down to those meaningful plays that need to happen in order to change the course of a game. They seem to be very obvious when we were having trouble scoring runs. Some of those plays that we would typically expect to happen haven't, and those are the ones that stand out to us. But overall, I do think that we're a better defensive team than we have been in the past, and I think there's even better ahead."
Pirates: Tabata tattooing Cardinals pitching
Anyone in baseball can have the proverbial "cousin" -- someone against whom they succeed disproportionately. Yet not many take that notion to greater extremes than Pittsburgh outfielder Jose Tabata. Friday night's 2-for-3 output set his lifetime average against the Cardinals at .350 (70-for-200). Against everyone else, Tabata is a career .261 hitter.
Tabata's recent performances atop the lineup have enabled Hurdle to keep erstwhile leadoff hitter Marte in the middle.
"He's had very good success against [the Cardinals], a team that's always had one of the best pitching staffs in baseball," said Hurdle. "He had another good all-around night. Four quality at-bats. Gave us everything we needed on top."
• The Cardinals entered this weekend's series as one of two teams in the Majors with a team ERA under 3.00, but with six runs allowed on Friday, they watched that ERA climb to 3.04. Atlanta still leads the big leagues in the category.
• The Cardinals (Joey Butler) and Pirates (Brent Morel) each added a new position player to their rosters prior to Friday's series opener. Morel made his Pirates debut as a pinch-hitter in the fifth inning on Friday. Butler did not make an appearance in the game.
• The Bucs have scored 60 of their 140 runs -- or 43 percent -- in the seventh inning or later.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.