Thanks to the likes of A.J. Burnett, the Pittsburgh Pirates will head into the All-Star break atop their division for the first time in 15 years.
Burnett, however, will be looking to bounce back from his worst start in two months when the NL Central-leading Pirates conclude their home series against Tim Lincecum and the San Francisco Giants on Sunday.
James McDonald pitched seven strong innings while Neil Walker and Michael McKenry each had two hits with an RBI on Saturday as Pittsburgh (47-37) won 3-1 - its ninth victory in 11 games - to even this weekend set."Every day is a statement day," McDonald said.
The victory guaranteed the Pirates will head into the break with at least a share of first place in the Central for the first time since 1997, when they were 43-43 and held a one-game lead over Houston.
Pittsburgh was 47-43 and one game out of first at the All-Star break in 2011. The Pirates started the second half strong and briefly led the Central later in July, but finished 72-90 for their 19th straight losing season.
"This is very similar to the position we were in last year," manager Clint Hurdle said to his players. "What's going to be different? Let's do something different than what we did last year."
Oft-maligned during his tenure with the New York Yankees , Burnett (9-2, 3.74 ERA) has been a big reason for Pittsburgh's success in his first year on the Pirates. The right-hander is 8-0 with a 2.79 ERA in 11 starts since losing at St. Louis on May 2, but had his string of eight straight winning starts end when he allowed six runs and 12 hits in five innings of Tuesday's 8-7 victory over Houston.
Burnett is 5-2 with a 1.84 ERA in seven career starts against the Giants (46-39), but has not faced them since 2007.
After losing for the sixth time in eight games, San Francisco counters with Tim Lincecum (3-9, 6.08), who will likely welcome a break from his disastrous first half.
The two-time NL Cy Young award winner ended a 10-game winless stretch when he allowed four hits and struck out eight in seven innings of a 3-0 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 27. However, he regressed Tuesday at Washington by giving up a season-high eight runs and nine hits in 3 1-3 innings of a 9-3 loss."Obviously it's easy to look at what happened and think I took a step back," Lincecum said. "I think that's where I've been wrong, just looking at all the negatives and whether or not it was a step forward or a step back as opposed to where I can go from here. Yes, it's a bad outing, but the next outing has nothing to do with (it). It's about getting better."
The right-hander is 1-1 with a 3.10 ERA in four career starts versus Pittsburgh.
Walker is hitless in two at-bats against Lincecum, but has batted .448 (13 for 29) in eight games against the Giants at PNC Park. He's also batting .429 with nine RBIs during an 11-game hitting streak.
McKenry is 12 for 30 with four homers and 12 RBIs in his last nine contests.
|San Francisco Giants|
|June 26, 2012||Shane Loux||15-Day DL||Strained neck|
|June 14, 2012||Aubrey Huff||Day-to-Day||Sprained right knee|
|June 11, 2012||Aubrey Huff||15-Day DL||Sprained right knee|
|June 07, 2012||Melky Cabrera||Day-to-Day||Left game - sore right hamstring|
|June 02, 2012||Santiago Casilla||Day-to-Day||Bruised knee|
|May 16, 2012||Melky Cabrera||Day-to-Day||Left toe|
|July 05, 2012||Alex Presley||7-Day DL||Concussion|
|July 03, 2012||Alex Presley||Day-to-Day||Left game - concussion-like symptoms|
|June 30, 2012||Andrew McCutchen||Day-to-Day||Left game - sprained left wrist|
|June 25, 2012||Rod Barajas||Day-to-Day||Left game - bruised left knee|
|May 30, 2012||Charlie Morton||60-Day DL||Right elbow inflammation|
|May 10, 2012||Daniel McCutchen||15-Day DL||Left oblique strain|
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- A day before he takes part in the home run derby as part of the All-Star festivities in Kansas City, Andrew McCutchen put on a show for the home fans.
McCutchen hit two home runs, Neil Walker homered among his five hits and the Pittsburgh Pirates entered the All-Star break in sole possession of first place following a 13-2 win over the San Francisco Giants on Sunday.
McCutchen hit a pair of two-run homers that immediately followed hits by Walker - one to open the scoring in the first and another to make it 12-2 in the seventh.
"I am not going up to bat to hit home runs," McCutchen said. "I am just trying to put good swings on balls and when I do that, depending on where the pitch is and how my swing is, some balls go out."
If they don't go out, they at least drop in for a hit of some sort lately for the red-hot McCutchen, who enters the break on a 21-for-38 (.552) tear. He has multiple hits in six of his past nine games and 23 RBIs in his past 19 games.
All of his team-high 18 home runs have come in the past two months - an NL-high 12 have come with runners on base.
The long-woeful Pirates have won six of seven and 10 of 12, and no team in the majors has a better record since May 12 than Pittsburgh's 34-19.
"We worked hard to get to where we are, and we've earned our way so far," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said.
A.J. Burnett pitched effectively into the seventh to win his ninth consecutive decision, and Casey McGehee went 3 for 4 with two RBIs for Pittsburgh.
The Pirates (48-37) are 11 games over .500 for the first time since 1992 and are in first place at the break for the first time since 1997. The franchise has endured a North American professional sports record 19 consecutive losing seasons.
The Pirates have gone 11-1-1 in their past 13 series and have won seven consecutive series at PNC Park.
"Seeing what's going on here, it's fun to be a part of it," said Burnett, acquired in an offseason trade from the New York Yankees .
The Giants' Tim Lincecum failed to get out of the fourth inning for the second consecutive start, getting charged with six runs on seven hits. The two-time Cy Young Award winner enters the break with a 6.42 ERA that is worst in the majors among qualifying starters.
Pablo Sandoval hit a two-run homer for San Francisco, which has lost five of six and seven of nine.
Burnett (10-2) retired 13 consecutive Giants batters from the first until the sixth. He was lifted after Sandoval hit his eighth homer with Buster Posey aboard in the seventh. Burnett was charged with two runs on four hits and two walks with five strikeouts in 6 1-3 innings.
Burnett improved to 6-0 at home and became the second Pirates pitcher since 1993 to win 10 games prior to the All-star break. Pittsburgh has won each of his past 12 outings. Burnett's winning streak is a career-best.
Walker extended his hitting streak to 12 games - tying a team season high - with a homer, double and three singles. It was the first five-hit game for a Pirates player since Walker did it July 20, 2010.
Walker is hitting .489 (23-for-47) during his streak.
"Days like today can happen," said Walker, "but certainly five hits is something that comes around very rarely."
Walker hit his sixth home run with nobody on in the third, and the Pirates chased Lincecum (3-10) with a three-run fourth.
Burnett's soft liner through the middle with the bases loaded scored McGehee. It was the pitcher's 10th career RBI and first since Aug. 9, 2005, while with Florida.
Burnett was the final batter Lincecum would face - although runs that scored via a Drew Sutton sacrifice fly and Walker single would be charged to him.
Lincecum has allowed 69 earned runs - most in the majors and three more than his total from all of last season. He has allowed 47 earned runs in 47 innings on the road this season.
"You never want to say, `Hey, I've hit rock bottom,' or anything like that," Lincecum said. "But when things are going as bad as they are right now, you've kind of got to go out there like you've got nothing left to lose. Leave it all out there on the field and what happens, happens."
Manager Bruce Bochy said Lincecum will start San Francisco's second game out of the break. He also was emphatic that he has given no thought to removing Lincecum from the rotation.
"He's got to put this first half behind him..." Bochy said. "He's got to regroup. We need him. He's got to be determined to turn things around, and have a better second half.
"There's not much you can do right now."
About the only negative for the Pirates on Sunday was McGehee pulling up lame with a mild left groin strain after swatting a two-run "single" deep into the notch in left-center during the sixth.
Pittsburgh entered the day a game up on the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central. Only Washington has a better record among NL teams.
Notes: The Giants had three errors. ... The Pirates' 29-14 home record is the best in the majors. They have won nine of 11 and 14 of 17 at PNC Park. ... Pittsburgh will be on the road for 16 of its first 22 after the break, beginning with three in Milwaukee Friday-Sunday. Manager Clint Hurdle set the order of his rotation to start the unofficial second half: RHP James McDonald , RHP Kevin Correia , Burnett, RHP Jeff Karstens and LHP Erik Bedard . ... San Francisco hosts Houston for a three-game series coming out of the break beginning Friday. The Giants took two of three from the Astros at home June 12-14.