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Pirates-Rockies Preview

Pittsburgh Pirates' Starling Marte points to Aramis Ramirez after he singled to drive in Marte against the Colorado Rockies in the ninth inning of a baseball game Monday, Sept. 21, 2015, in Denver. Pittsburgh won 9-3. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) Photo:

Pittsburgh Pirates' Starling Marte points to Aramis Ramirez after he singled to drive in Marte against the Colorado Rockies in the ninth inning of a baseball game Monday, Sept. 21, 2015, in Denver. Pittsburgh won 9-3. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Though the Pittsburgh Pirates are headed to the postseason for a third straight year, there's still work to be done before the playoffs begin.

With the NL Central title in their sights, the surging Pirates can complete a four-game road sweep of the Colorado Rockies with a sixth straight victory Thursday.

Neil Walker had four hits and recorded a career-high six RBIs to help Pittsburgh (92-60) clinch that postseason berth with Wednesday's 13-7 win at Coors Field.

"We know how hard we've worked," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We know what we've poured into this. We know what we've committed to this.

"We still have things in front of us we need to take care of."

The Pirates last made three consecutive playoff appearances during their division-title run from 1990-92, but are hardly content with just getting there again.

"We're in a different place than we were last year, certainly than a couple of years ago," Walker told MLB's official website.

Pittsburgh owns a three-game lead over the Chicago Cubs for the top wild-card spot in the NL and is four back of first-place St. Louis in the Central. The Pirates begin a three-game series at Wrigley Field on Friday then host the Cardinals for three.

"We still feel like we have the Cardinals in our grasp," Walker said.

Before all that, the Pirates look to sweep a series at Colorado (63-89) for the first time since 1999. They've batted .369 with 28 runs and 45 hits in the first three against a Rockies pitching staff that's posted a 9.50 ERA during the club's four-game skid.

Starling Marte is 9 for 15 with six RBIs in the set.

Chad Bettis (8-5, 4.46 ERA) last made a start against the Pirates in 2013. The right-hander has yielded one run and struck out 12 over 12 innings to win his last two starts. That run came through five innings of Friday's 7-4 victory over San Diego.

"As the game goes on, I get a little bit more dialed in," he said.

Walker is 2 for 5 against Bettis.

It's uncertain if Aramis Ramirez will be back in the Pittsburgh lineup after he sat for precautionary reasons Wednesday to deal with a left groin he tweaked while running the bases the night before.

"We'll see how it is (Thursday)," Ramirez said. "If I'm good enough to play (Thursday), I'll play."

Teammate Jeff Locke (8-11, 4.48) has struggled while posting a 6.00 ERA in losing all three road starts this month. The left-hander allowed four of his five runs in the first four innings and lasted 6 1-3 during Friday's 6-2 defeat at Dodger Stadium.

Locke was much worse in his most recent outing at Coors Field on July 26 of last season when he gave up six runs and three homers in 6 2-3 innings of an 8-1 loss.

Nolan Arenado hit one of those home runs and is 4 for 9 against Locke.

However, it's uncertain if the All-Star third baseman will play after he was rested Wednesday for a bump on the head he suffered Tuesday. Arenado is 1 for 13 with seven strikeouts in his last three contests.

Teammate Corey Dickerson is 5 for 9 with a homer and two doubles in the series.

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