The Pirates have been the biggest story in baseball this year, because the club hasn't reached the playoffs in more than two decades and currently sports the best record in the National League.
And while Pirates manager Clint Hurdle is thrilled with his team's first half, he knows success will be determined by the end result -- not the journey.
"It got a little band-wagony the last two years. That's one of the lessons you learn from there," said Hurdle, acknowledging Pittsburgh's late-season collapses the past two years. "There will be a greater story at the end. I'm not ready to go out and share the story with everybody now. What I'm most impressed with is their focus and their intent. It's not about being sound-bited or being quoted. It's about playing ball."
The Pirates have been doing that better than anyone as of late -- winning 10 of their last 12 -- and bring a six-game road winning streak into Friday's series opener against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
If results from earlier this season are any indication, Pirates lefty Francisco Liriano and Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija should provide another intense pitching duel. The two squared off on May 22 in Pittsburgh, with the Pirates coming away with a 1-0 victory.
That was the first of two seven-inning, shutout performances against the Cubs this season for Liriano, who is coming off a superb June. The lefty went at least six innings in all six of his starts while posting a 2.15 ERA.
Samardzija takes the hill for the Cubs as they return home after a 10-day road trip that included more than 6,100 miles traveled. The righty took a no-decision in his last outing against the Mariners, but showed poise by making a key in-game adjustment that was able to net him a quality start.
Samardzija is 1-2 with a 2.14 ERA in three starts against the Pirates this season.
Pirates: Marte's streak at nine
Left fielder Starling Marte enters Friday's opener with a nine-game hitting streak, during which he's batting .356 with five doubles, two triples and two home runs. He's also stolen 23 bases this season, the most by a Pirate before the All-Star break since Tony Womack's 31 in 1998.
Cubs: Hairston, Ransom to start
With the Cubs facing the lefty Liriano on Friday, outfielder Scott Hairston and third baseman Cody Ransom are expected to start the series opener. It will be a long time coming for both, as Hairston has zero at-bats in the last nine games, while Ransom hasn't started since June 25.
• Reliever Matt Guerrier made his Cubs debut Thursday and Pedro Strop's will come soon. Strop will become the 41st player used by the Cubs this season, tying the franchise record for most players used before the All-Star break, which was set by the 2000 club.
• Cubs starters have turned in quality starts in 15 of their last 19 games. Chicago's rotation has made 52 quality starts in all, going 25-10 with 16 no-decisions and a 2.08 ERA.
• Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen has a six-game hitting streak, batting .556 through the stretch.
• Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano -- who recorded one of Chicago's two hits Thursday -- has a six-game hitting streak, batting .400 through that stretch.