ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Pittsburgh Pirates' dynamic combination of Starling Marte and reigning National League MVP Andrew McCutchen was too much for the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday.
As was right-hander Edinson Volquez.
Marte and McCutchen went a combined 3-for-8, scored four runs, knocked in two more and tied a season-high by stealing three bases in the Pirates' 8-1 rout to open a three-game series at Tropicana Field. Marte has been particularly dangerous recently, going 20-for-53 with five doubles while hitting safely in 11 of his last 12 games.
The hard-hitting speedsters were central in Pittsburgh's first two scoring innings, which effectively settled the game by the third inning. Pittsburgh evened its record at 38-38 and has the best record in the National League (26-18) since May 6. Meanwhile, the Rays (31-47) missed a chance to shed the indignity of being baseball's worst team statistically for the first time in 20 days.
Volquez (5-6) allowed a run on five hits in eight innings. He walked two and struck out one, benefiting from three double plays from a Rays team that has hit into 71 this season and is among the lead's most prolific in the category. Volquez fashioned his second scoreless start in his last three, but was coming off a disastrous eight-run, 2 1/3-inning pasting by the Reds in his last start.
Third baseman Pedro Alvarez's 12th homer of the season, a mammoth three-run shot to center off Rays starter Alex Cobb, gave Pittsburgh a 6-1 lead in the third inning. Marte had led off the four-run inning with a double and scored on a single by McCutchen for a 3-1 Pirate advantage. Cobb, who had logged four scoreless outings in his previous nine, retired the next two batters, but worked himself back into trouble with a walk to second baseman Josh Harrison. Alvarez homered on the next pitch.
Pittsburgh's potent Marte-McCutchen combination in the No. 2 and No. 3 spots helped manufacture a 2-0 lead in the first. Marte was hit by a pitch and stole second with one out, then advanced to third on a McCutchen single. He scored on a groundout by first baseman Ike Davis. McCutchen also stole second against catcher Ryan Hanigan and scored on a base hit by catcher Russell Martin.
Tampa Bay countered with a run against Volquez in the first, as center fielder Desmond Jennings singled leading off, took second on a fielder's choice and scored on a two-out single by first baseman James Loney.
Cobb was charged with six runs on six hits in five innings, swelling his ERA from 3.48 to 4.10. He walked three, one off his season high, and struck out just two, tying his season low.
NOTES: Pittsburgh has won its last four road series after dropping its previous seven. ... The Pirates are the only team in the National League this season to have five players with hitting streaks of 10-plus games at some point: CF Andrew McCutchen (12), 2B Neil Walker (11), LF Starling Marte (10) UTIL Josh Harrison (10), RF Gregory Polanco (11, entering play Monday). ... Rays LHP David Price (3.35) and RHP Chris Archer (3.66), rank third and fourth, respectively in lowest run support per nine innings among American Leaguers.