PITTSBURGH -- One of the most unlikely team streaks in baseball has to be the Pirates never having had a winning record within their own National League Central division.
The fact their string of losing seasons -- begun in 1993 -- is older than the NL Central -- created in 1994 -- may make it seem logical. Not, however, when reminded that two other division teams had concurrent long dry spells of below-.500 years -- the Reds nine straight, the Brewers 12 in a row.
Yet the closest the Bucs have come to having a winning record within the division was in 1997 when, under different scheduling arrangements, they went 24-24.
The Pirates are making a major move on that blemish as well, taking a 24-13 record against NL Central foes into this series with the Cubs; they have a winning record against each of the other four clubs, the Astros having transitioned to the American League West.
This is not an incidental development for a team whose 2012 slide was greased by an intradivisional record of 6-19 down the stretch.
"We were mistreated the second half last year. We've got things to get done, and to do that we have to show improvement. The Central was a place we felt we had to start," said manager Clint Hurdle. "We've been able to show up and have solid games from start to finish against the other Central teams."
Speaking of being able to finish ... the Bucs and their manager are well aware that even last season, they held a 33-23 edge over division teams until the aforementioned implosion.
First number, last word
16: Runners caught stealing by Russell Martin entering Friday, the most by a Pittsburgh catcher since Ronny Paulino finished 2007 with 19 runners caught stealing.
"The game is always looking to put out its gemstones. This kid ... in fairness to what he's done, it's not his fault he got here in June. Since he's shown up, everybody knows the name. But if you're talking about [Yasiel] Puig, why don't you talk about [Starling] Marte, a guy who's been here the whole half?" -- Hurdle, stirring up a little more All-Star Game fuss.
• The Bucs' rotation remains intact following A.J. Burnett's Sunday comeback start: Jeff Locke, Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano are lined up to face American League West-leading Oakland on Monday-Wednesday at PNC Park.
• Reese McGuire's professional career has nowhere to go but down? The 14th overall selection in the June First-Year Player Draft made his debut with the Gulf Coast League Pirates on Thursday -- and went 4-for-5 with a pair of doubles and three RBIs.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.