LEADING OFF: Cubs-Pirates, Astros-Rangers among key games

A look at what's happening around the major leagues Tuesday:

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CENTRAL POWERS

The Pirates and Cubs are the favorites in the NL wild-card race, and now they're setting their sights on tracking down the Central-leading Cardinals. Pittsburgh trails St. Louis by 2 1/2 games with Chicago back another four. The Cubs are in Pittsburgh for a four-game set and open with a day-night doubleheader. Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.59 ERA) takes on Gerrit Cole (16-8, 2.54) in Game 1, and then Jon Lester (9-10, 3.50) will oppose resurgent J.A. Happ (9-7, 3.87).

BOTTOM FEEDERS

The Cardinals dropped three of four to last-place Cincinnati over the weekend and now begin a series against the NL Central's other subpar club in Milwaukee. St. Louis has lost eight of 11 while the Pirates and Cubs have surged, loosening its stranglehold on the division. Carlos Martinez (13-7, 3.12) has been uncharacteristically hittable over the last couple months and pitches for St. Louis against Ariel Pena (1-0, 4.50), who is making his second big league start.

TEXAS TWO STEP

The Astros and Rangers continue their four-game series in a showdown between the AL West's top two teams. Houston's Collin McHugh (16-7, 3.89) lucked into a victory his last time out, allowing five runs in an 11-5 win over Oakland. He's won three straight starts and has a 2.33 ERA since the start of August. Martin Perez (2-5, 5.43) hasn't been nearly as good, allowing two homers and five runs at Seattle his last time out.

BUEHRLE BACK

The first-place Blue Jays try to hold off the Yankees while facing Atlanta, which is in the running for the first-overall pick in the 2016 draft. LHP Mark Buehrle (14-7, 3.72) makes his first start for Toronto since receiving a cortisone shot in his pitching shoulder last week. Toronto manager John Gibbons had some concerns about Buehrle after his last outing, as he's struggled of late after being among Toronto's most dependable starters for most of the season.

FISH ON THE MENU

The Mets face Miami seeking their eighth straight win. Jacob deGrom (13-7, 2.40) faces a Marlins team that's averaged just 2 1/2 runs over its last eight games, including just four runs over three games against the Nationals last the weekend. The right-hander beat Washington his last time out and has won five of his last six decisions. Miami counters with Tom Koehler (9-13, 3.99).

HUGHES RETURNS

Phil Hughes returns to Minnesota's rotation on Tuesday against the Tigers. He has not pitched since Aug. 9 because of back problems. Hughes said Monday there was a point at which he thought he might miss the remainder of the season, but things took a turn for the better last week.

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