Here's what to watch for in this interleague series between the Rangers and Pirates:
1. Slumping Buccos: The Pirates invade Texas with a four-game losing streak that includes a crushing three-game sweep by St. Louis as the Cardinals overtook the Bucs by 1 1/2 games in the National League Central race. The Rangers also start Monday 1 1/2 games behind Oakland in the American League West. The Rangers and Pirates share identical 81-61 records. Pittsburgh is 9-10 in its last 19 games. The Pirates ensured their first non-losing season in 20 years with a victory at Milwaukee on Wednesday and haven't won since then. Pittsburgh has been in first or second place every day since June 21, but the Pirates find themselves in a virtual tie for second place with Cincinnati with three weeks left in the regular season. The Pirates and Reds are eight games ahead of Washington in the NL wild-card race.
Interleague success: Pittsburgh is 12-5 in interleague play, tied with Detroit for the second-best mark in the majors. The Pirates are an impressive 6-1 on the road against AL foes. The Rangers are 10-7 in interleague play, including 5-2 at home. Texas has won eight of its last 10 games against NL teams. The Rangers have destroyed the Pirates in their interleague matchups. Texas is 10-2 against Pittsburgh, including a perfect 6-0 at Rangers Ballpark.
Hurdles' return: Clint Hurdle, the Rangers' hitting coach during their 2010 World Series season, has done a masterful job of rebuilding the Pirates and has to be a favorite for NL Manager of the Year. The Pirates are in contention to win their first division title since 1992 and their first World Series since 1979. Pittsburgh has improved 10 games in the standings compared to this time last season.
Cutch city: Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen is the face of the Pittsburgh franchise and the leading contender for NL MVP. McCutchen is batting .344 since April 30, the top mark in the NL. He hit .384 in August. He belted his 100th career home run on Tuesday, becoming the sixth player in Pirates history to reach the century mark in homers and stolen bases. McCutchen needs one home run for his third straight season with 20 HRs and 20 stolen bases. He and Barry Bonds (1990-92) would be the only players in Pirates history with three consecutive 20/20 seasons.
Don't forget Alvarez: Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez, the top overall pick in the 2008 draft, has come into his own. He leads the National League with 32 home runs, one ahead of Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt. The club record for most homers hit in one season by a third baseman is held by Aramis Ramirez, who belted 34 for the Pirates in 2011. Alvarez also has a career-high 87 RBIs, two more than he had last season.