Despite a season-worst losing streak, the Pittsburgh Pirates still aren't out of the hunt for the playoffs.
With their main opposition facing each other, the Pirates hope to make up some ground when they visit the Chicago Cubs to start a four-game set on Friday.
Pittsburgh (72-70) has lost six in a row to drop to fourth place in the wild-card standings, a skid that began with a sweep by the Cubs (56-87) last weekend at home and continued with three more losses in Cincinnati. While the Pirates trail Atlanta by eight games for the top wild-card spot, they are just a handful of games behind the Cardinals and Dodgers for the second wild card.
The Cardinals are in Los Angeles for a four-game series this weekend, so if Pittsburgh can take advantage of the Cubs while those teams split, the Pirates could gain ground or even move back into playoff position.
Those are the kind of breaks the Pirates need if they are going to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1992. While getting swept by the NL Central-leading Reds is nothing new to most teams, losing all three against the Cubs last weekend hurt the Pirates.
They managed only seven runs in each series, falling 2-1 to the Reds on Wednesday. After losing 12-2 to the Cubs last Friday, Pittsburgh has been outscored by just seven runs in its last five losses.
"We're a pitch, a play, a hit away from getting hot," manager Clint Hurdle told the Pirates' official website.
Pittsburgh has scored just 40 runs while losing 10 of 12. The Pirates were missing Pedro Alvarez on Wednesday because of an injured right wrist, and there was no word on whether he might be available Friday.
Alvarez, who leads Pittsburgh with 27 home runs, is 1 for 15 with seven strikeouts over his last three games.
James McDonald (12-7, 3.93 ERA) takes the mound for the Pirates after not receiving a decision in Saturday's 4-3 loss to Chicago. He gave up three runs and seven hits in 5 2-3 innings and has a 6.17 ERA in two starts this season against the Cubs.
Chicago is in the midst of one of its better stretches in what has been a forgettable season. After sweeping Pittsburgh, the Cubs took two of three from Houston. That followed a stretch where Chicago lost nine of 11.
Alfonso Soriano fell a triple short of the cycle and September callup Dave Sappelt continued his hot streak with three hits in a 5-1 win over the Astros on Wednesday. Sappelt has seven hits in his last 13 at-bats.
Rookie left-hander Chris Rusin (0-2, 5.73) makes his fourth career start Friday. He faced the Pirates on Sunday, giving up five hits and one run in five innings while not earning a decision in a 4-2 win.
This is the start of a 10-game homestand for the Cubs, who are 34-34 at home and 31 games under .500 away from Chicago.
These teams have split 12 matchups this season and Pittsburgh has won eight of its last 12 in Chicago, taking two of three there July 30-Aug. 1.
This is the start of 20 games in 20 days for Pittsburgh, which had its last off day of the season Thursday.
|August 31, 2012||Jeff Karstens||Day-to-Day||Hip flexor|
|August 27, 2012||Neil Walker||Day-to-Day||Lower back stiffness|
|August 25, 2012||Chad Qualls||15-Day DL||Left toe sprain|
|August 25, 2012||Chad Qualls||15-Day DL||Left toe sprain|
|August 25, 2012||Jose Tabata||Day-to-Day||Left game - left groin discomfort|
|August 19, 2012||Starling Marte||15-Day DL||Strained right oblique|
|September 11, 2012||Anthony Rizzo||Day-to-Day||Left game - sore right shoulder|
|September 07, 2012||Blake Parker||60-Day DL||Bone contusion in right elbow|
|September 07, 2012||Brett Jackson||Day-to-Day||Left game - bruised right knee|
|July 28, 2012||Matt Garza||60-Day DL||Stress reaction, right elbow|
|July 21, 2012||Matt Garza||Day-to-Day||Left game - right triceps cramp|
|June 16, 2012||Ryan Dempster||15-Day DL||Right lat tightness|
CHICAGO (AP) -- The Chicago Cubs are becoming quite a problem for the Pittsburgh Pirates .
Pittsburgh lost its seventh straight game Friday and kept fading in the NL wild-card race as Starlin Castro hit a three-run homer that sent Chicago to a 7-4 win.
The Pirates have dropped 11 of 13 overall. They began the day three games behind St. Louis for the final NL playoff spot.
The Cubs have won four straight against the Pirates, including a three-game sweep last weekend in Pittsburgh.
Chris Rusin (1-2) notched his first major league victory, allowing two runs in five-plus innings in his fourth career start.
"It feels good," the 25-year-old Rusin said after a cold beer shower. "I located the ball, kept the ball down and got ahead of a lot of hitters."
The Cubs led 4-3 in the sixth before Castro connected after Luis Valbuena walked and Alfonso Soriano was hit by a pitch.
"I wanted to jump on the first pitch because I knew he would throw me a fastball," Castro said. "I know the team isn't going anywhere, but we have to finish strong."
Since Castro's debut in 2010, he leads all National League players with 508 hits.
"We all know what kind of hitter he is right now," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "I was more impressed not by the home run, but by the adjustment he made. He went with no leg kick and no stride and hit a home run."
"Those are the things you look for, to see guys make adjustments. That's when you start to grow as a player," he said.
Andrew McCutchen homered in the Pittsburgh seventh, but Cubs reliever Shawn Camp tossed a perfect eighth and Carlos Marmol earned his 20th save in 22 chances. Marmol has converted 19 consecutive save tries.
Pirates starter James McDonald (12-8) struggled once again in the second half. He lasted just 3 2-3 innings, allowing four runs on five hits and four walks. He is 2-5 in his last 10 starts.
McDonald, who also hit a batter, hurt himself with wildness. He walked three batters in the fourth before Anthony Rizzo delivered a two-run double down the right-field line and Alfonso Soriano hit an RBI single that made it 4-0.
"I didn't have any pitches today, but I've pitched in that situation where I didn't have any pitches before," McDonald said. "Walks are unacceptable. I had two outs, I should have gotten that out and been in the dugout."
The Pirates got an RBI single from Pedro Alvarez in the fifth and closed within a run in the sixth.
Gaby Sanchez singled home a run and Alvarez had an RBI grounder, but Pittsburgh left the bases loaded when James Russell struck out pinch-hitter Neil Walker .
On Aug. 8, the Pirates were 63-47, but have gone 9-24 since. They are now just a game over .500 for the first time since June 15 when they were 32-31. Pittsburgh hasn't finished with a winning record since 1992.
While the Pirates continue to fight for postseason berth, the Cubs have a magic number of their own. The victory was the Cubs' 57th, meaning six more wins lets them avoid a third 100-loss season.
"We got the magic number down," Sveum said. "These guys have a lot of pride and are trying to stay from that number."
Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney was 2 for 2 with a run scored to extend his hitting streak to a career-high nine games.
NOTES: Cubs' first-round draft pick Albert Almora took batting practice with the team at Wrigley Field prior to the game. He will report to the instructional league on Monday. ... Alvarez (sore wrist) returned to the lineup after missing Wednesday's game. Walker (lower back tightness) did not start for the 16th consecutive game. ... Jason Berken makes his Cubs debut Saturday against Wandy Rodriguez (10-13, 3.72).