Mired in their longest losing streak of the season, the Pirates try to avoid a fifth consecutive defeat to the Cubs on Saturday.
After suffering a three-game home sweep at the hands of Chicago last weekend, Pittsburgh (72-71) kicked off a seven-game trip with three losses to NL Central-leading Cincinnati. The Pirates saw their woes continue Friday as their skid reached seven, falling 7-4 in the first of four at Wrigley Field.
Loser of 17 of 22, Pittsburgh - batting .204 and outscored 38-18 during its losing streak - is one of a handful of teams within a few games of the second NL wild-card berth.
"They're playing for their lives right now," Cubs manager Dale Sveum told the team's official website. "Every game to them is a playoff game, and every game to us is a playoff game in our players' minds, because they're talking about staying away from 100 losses."
The Cubs (57-87) have enjoyed playing the role of spoiler. Chicago has won six of seven while averaging 5.1 runs, significantly higher than its season mark of 3.8.
Starlin Castro went 2 for 4 with a three-run homer and season best-tying four RBIs on Friday. The two-time All-Star has given Pittsburgh fits, as five of his 13 homers and 16 of his 75 RBIs have come in his last 12 games against the Pirates.
"We all know what kind of hitter he is right now," Sveum said of Castro, who's batting .398 lifetime against the Pirates at home.
Looking to send Pittsburgh to another loss and making his Cubs debut is Jason Berken , who was claimed off waivers last week after Baltimore designated him for assignment. The right-hander will fill in for Jeff Samardzija , who was shut down after reaching his innings limit.
"It's a pretty awesome opportunity," said Berken, who went 5-6 with a 3.50 ERA over 26 starts with Triple-A Norfolk. "I'm pretty excited. I had a pretty good year in Triple-A this year, and the work paid off in the end.
"I think the change of scenery and being up here gives you a little bit extra for the last month. I anticipate throwing well. I'm feeling good."
In his only big league appearance this year, Berken was tagged for seven runs - two earned - and six hits in one inning of relief during the Orioles' 14-3 loss to Texas on May 7. He pitched exclusively out of the bullpen over the previous two seasons after going 6-12 with a 6.54 ERA over 24 starts as a rookie in 2009.
The Pirates counter with Wandy Rodriguez (10-13, 3.72 ERA). The left-hander went 0-4 with a 5.17 ERA in his first five starts since being acquired from Houston but has gone 2-0 with a 1.37 ERA in his last three.
He gave up three runs and three hits over 6 2-3 innings Monday in a 4-3, 14-inning loss to the Reds.
Rodriguez went 6-7 with a 3.84 ERA over 21 starts versus Chicago while with the Astros.
Alfonso Soriano is 4 for 38 (.105) with a homer and 12 strikeouts against Rodriguez. Castro hasn't fared much better, going 3 for 17 (.176).
Pittsburgh second baseman Neil Walker , fourth on the team with 14 homers and 69 RBIs, had missed the previous 15 games with a back injury before striking out as a pinch-hitter Friday. He could return to the starting lineup Saturday.
|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||Jose Tabata||Day-to-Day||Left game - left groin discomfort|
|August 25, 2012||Chad Qualls||15-Day DL||Left toe sprain|
|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) -- Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle figured snapping a season-high seven-game losing streak would be no easy task.
Joel Hanrahan made it about as dramatic as it can get.
Hanrahan allowed two runs in the ninth, then struck out Dave Sappelt with the bases loaded to preserve a 7-6 win over the Chicago Cubs on Saturday.
Andrew McCutchen homered and reached base four times for Pittsburgh, which had dropped 11 of 13 overall.
"If it was about everybody's comfort, you'd choose to do it differently," Hurdle said. "But usually when you push through something like we're going through right now, it's gonna take some drama, and it's gonna take some wherewithal, and some confidence and some grit.
"It was enough today to get us out of the direction we were headed in and headed in a new direction."
Wandy Rodriguez (11-13) held Chicago to three runs - one earned - in helping the Pirates stop their free-fall in the NL playoff race. Pittsburgh had lost 17 of 22, yet was just three games behind St. Louis for the second NL wild-card slot entering the day.
Rodriguez improved to 3-0 with a 1.40 ERA over his last four starts after struggling initially upon being acquired midseason from Houston.
McCutchen launched Jason Berken 's pitch off the rear fence behind the left-field bleachers leading off the third, his 28th homer of the season. He also singled and walked twice, improving to .394 in 27 career games at Wrigley Field.
Hanrahan allowed Alfonso Soriano 's RBI single in the ninth and walked in a run, but held on for his 35th save.
"It's obviously not how we write it up, especially with a seven-game losing streak, you want to go out there and have it go smooth," Hanrahan said. "Being here in Chicago, dinner isn't good until about 6 o'clock anyway, so keep us around a little bit."
Starling Marte had an RBI triple, doubled and scored twice as Pittsburgh scored more than four runs for the first time since its losing streak began. The Pirates were aided by a pair of Cubs errors that led to four unearned runs.
Clint Barmes hit a solo homer in the seventh, and enjoyed the return of his double-play combination, Neil Walker , who started for the first time since Aug. 26 due to lower back tightness.
Walker went hitless in five at-bats, but his presence was felt elsewhere.
"Just looking over and seeing (Walker) out there, it brought a whole different feel to the clubhouse," Barmes said. "We need him out there. Having him out there puts everybody a little more at ease."
Berken (0-1) struggled in his Cubs debut, giving up eight hits in four innings, though just two of the six runs he allowed were earned.
Berken, who was claimed off waivers on Sept. 7 after Baltimore designated him for assignment, became the 12th starting pitcher the Cubs have used this season and the team-record 53rd player they've used overall.
"He was a victim of a couple of errors," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "Could have gotten into the fifth only giving up two, but the errors cost him pitches and the ability to go five or six today."
Anthony Rizzo had two hits and an RBI for Chicago, and Soriano drove in two runs, leaving him one RBI shy of his first 100 RBI season since 2005.
Starlin Castro had two hits and reached base three times, but missed a chance to move into a tie for the NL lead in triples when he tripped over second base on a double up the right field line in the eighth.
Josh Vitters ' throwing error on a routine ball led to three unearned runs in the fourth, all scoring with two outs. Marte pounded an RBI triple to center, while Travis Snider and Garrett Jones drove in runs to cap the rally.
NOTES: Cuban OF Jorge Soler made his first visit to a big league ballpark Saturday when he participated in pregame drills with the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The powerfully-built 20 year old put on an impressive display in batting practice, knocking two balls onto Waveland Avenue and three more that easily cleared the ivy in left. The Cubs won a hotly-contested bidding war for Soler, signing him to a nine-year, $30 million contract in June. . Hurdle declined to answer a pregame question about whether removing James McDonald from the starting rotation was an option. `'We're doing some internal talking in a lot of different areas. I had a talk with James yesterday. We'll just leave it at that right now," Hurdle said. McDonald lasted only 3 2-3 innings Friday and is 3-5 with a 7.08 ERA in the second half. . OF Alex Presley (right foot) was unavailable Saturday after being hit by a pitch in the ninth inning Friday.