Series preview: Mets at Pirates

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The Mets face (l to r) Charlie Morton, A.J. Burnett and Jeff Locke this weekend at PNC Park.METS (40-48, fourth place/NL East) vs. PITTSBURGH PIRATES (54-36, second place/NL Central)

Friday: RHP Jeremy Hefner (4-6, 3.39) vs. RHP Charlie Morton (1-2, 3.38), 7:05 p.m. ET

Saturday: RHP Carlos Torres (0-1, 0.51) vs. RHP A.J. Burnett (4-6, 3.05), 7:15 p.m. ET

Sunday: RHP Dillon Gee (6-7, 4.60) vs. LHP Jeff Locke (8-2, 2.15), 1:35 p.m. ET

Pirates short hops

Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

Pedro Alvarez is one shy of the NL home run lead.

• New York City-raised third baseman Pedro Alvarez has 23 homers, one shy of NL leader Carlos Gonzalez and tied with Philadelphia’s Domonic Brown. Only two other players in franchise history have reached that long ball total before the All-Star break: Willie Stargell (30 apiece in 1971 and ’73) and Ralph Kiner (24 in 1950 and 23 apiece in 1948 and ’49). Alvarez has the most homers in the NL since June 1. He also has an eight-game hitting streak. David Wright will not be a fan favorite in Pittsburgh after omitting Alvarez from the Home Run Derby.

• The Pirates have four All-Stars: Andrew McCutchen, Alvarez, Jason Grilli and Jeff Locke. Pittsburgh last had that many All-Star representatives in 1981.

• Second baseman Neil Walker landed on the disabled list Tuesday with a right oblique injury. Jordy Mercer has started both games at second base since Walker was deactivated. Josh Harrison, promoted from Triple-A, as well as Brandon Inge are capable of starting at second base.

• Grilli’s 28 saves lead the National League. The total is a franchise record before the All-Star break, and the most in the NL before the Mid-Summer Classic since Chad Cordero had 31 in 2005 with the Washington Nationals. Grilli, 36, had declared an out in his contract while pitching with the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate in July 2011 and has taken off since subsequently signing with Pittsburgh.

• Outfielder Jose Tabata is hitting .423 (11-for-26) with four doubles and a triple in his last seven games. He returned July 3 after missing six weeks with a left oblique strain.

• The Pirates had a combined .291 on-base percentage from their leadoff hitters last season. This year, Starling Marte had an MLB-leading 59 runs scored out of the leadoff spot. Marte also has 27 steals, already the most by a Pirate since Tony Womack had 31 in 1998.

• McCutchen is hitting .350 at PNC Park this season.

• Free-agent addition Russell Martin has thrown out 50 percent of would-be base stealers this season. His 21 runners caught are the most in the majors. Martin defected from the Yankees for a two-year, $17 million deal last Nov. 29. He batted cleanup Wednesday for the first time since 2009, after the Pirates scored only six total runs during their previous four games -- all losses.

• Pittsburgh produced its 13th shutout Wednesday, in a 5-0 win against Oakland. The staff ERA is an MLB-best 3.12.

• Although they are only 3-6 in July, causing hesitation, this looks like the year the Pirates may produce their first winning record since going 96-66 in 1992, with a squad that included Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke, Doug Drabek … and Terry Collins as bullpen coach. It was Collins’ first year on a major league staff.

Pittsburgh was 16 games over .500 last Aug. 8, but finished 79-83 in 2012.

The 20 consecutive losing seasons is a North American professional sports record. The NBA’s Kansas City/Sacramento Kings (1983-98) and NHL’s Vancouver Canucks (1976-91) each suffered 15 straight losing seasons. The NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1983-96) had 14 straight losing seasons.

The reason for hesitation: a recent history of second-half swoons. Pittsburgh was 41-39 at the end of June in 2011, but went 31-51 the rest of the season. Then, last year, they were 42-35 at that point, only to go 37-48 the rest of the way.

• Locke had a personal eight-game winning streak snapped Monday, although he allowed only two runs in seven innings in a 2-1 loss against Oakland. The 25-year-old southpaw entered 2013 with a career 1-6 record in 12 appearances (10 starts) over two seasons.