Finishing with a losing record for a 20th straight season seemed unthinkable for the Pittsburgh Pirates just over a month ago, but heading into the final two weeks of 2012, it is suddenly a distinct possibility.
The lowly Chicago Cubs haven't helped with this matter.
Having lost five of six meetings in the last 10 days, the scuffling Pirates will likely be glad to say goodbye to the Cubs in Monday night's season series finale at Wrigley Field.
By coughing up a five-run lead in Sunday's 13-9 defeat, Pittsburgh (73-72) lost for the eighth time in nine games. The Pirates, who haven't finished with a winning record since 1992, were a season-high 16 games over .500 on Aug. 8, but are now one loss from dropping back to the break-even mark for the first time since June 2, when they were 26-26.
"We are just not getting the job done," manager Clint Hurdle said.
Despite going 6-18 since Aug. 20, Pittsburgh is still within three games of St. Louis for the NL's second wild-card spot. It has a chance to get closer with the Cardinals off Monday, but to do that it needs to beat Chicago (58-88) - and that hasn't come easy.
The Cubs swept a three-game set in Pittsburgh last weekend and have won two of three in this series."We kept fighting the last couple of days and showing some resilience," said Anthony Rizzo , who hit a grand slam and a two-run homer Sunday to drive in a career-best six runs.
Excluding the games with the Pirates, though, Chicago is 5-11 since Aug. 25.
Travis Wood (6-11, 4.23 ERA) thoroughly frustrated Pittsburgh on Sept. 7, allowing a hit and three walks over six shutout innings of a 12-2 victory. He followed that up by yielding a run and four hits over 7 2-3 innings in Wednesday's 5-1 victory in Houston.
This is quite a turnaround for the left-hander, who prior to beating Pittsburgh was 0-8 with a 6.33 ERA over a 10-start stretch.
Correia, who has made two starts after a brief stint in the bullpen, allowed four runs and seven hits over six innings in Tuesday's 5-3 loss to Cincinnati. The right-hander is 1-0 with a 2.92 ERA in two starts against the Cubs - both in Pittsburgh - and has posted a 0.93 ERA in winning his last three at Wrigley.
He hasn't had much luck, however, against either Rizzo or Starlin Castro .
Castro, who is batting .385 with eight RBIs in the last six games versus Pittsburgh, is 7 for 17 lifetime against Correia, while Rizzo is 2 for 2 with a homer.
McCutchen appears to be breaking out of his power slump, batting .385 with four home runs in his last seven games after hitting .247 without a homer in his previous 20.
He is, however, just 1 for 10 lifetime against Wood.
|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) -- Kevin Correia figured the hitters would be anxious after waiting around for nearly four hours.
He was right.
Correia pitched seven innings of two-hit ball and Starling Marte hit a two-run triple to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates past the Chicago Cubs 3-0 Monday night in a game that was delayed more than 3 1/2 hours by rain.
With the Pirates still in playoff contention, the teams waited out two storms at Wrigley Field that pushed back the start for 3 hours, 37 minutes. The first pitch was thrown at 10:42 p.m. CDT, and Joel Hanrahan delivered the final one at 1:28 a.m. on Tuesday.
"In a game that starts at 10:40, the hitters are going to be aggressive," Correia said. "It's not going to be a game where you take a lot of pitches, so if you can pound the zone with quality pitches, you're going to have a decent outing usually."
Pittsburgh tied Milwaukee for third place in the NL Central at 74-72. Both teams are 2 1/2 games behind division rival St. Louis for the second NL wild-card spot, with the Los Angeles Dodgers also in their path.
Correia (11-9) walked one and struck out six, equaling a season high. He whiffed the first four batters he faced and matched his longest outing of the season.
"You can argue this is the best game he's pitched all year - the length, the efficiency, a couple double plays, a couple minor jams he worked right through and out of," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Very good command. It was the start we needed, a very good outing by Kevin."
Jason Grilli pitched a hitless eighth and Hanrahan got three outs for his 36th save in 39 chances. Darwin Barney had both of Chicago's hits.
"You can chalk it up to maybe sitting around all day waiting," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "Both teams it seemed were in a daze out there."
The Pirates touched up Cubs starter Travis Wood for three runs in the third inning, including Marte's key triple. Jose Tabata drove in Marte with a double to deep center.
Clint Barmes was hit by a pitch and Brock Holt 's single up the middle on a 3-2 count sent Barmes to third. After Correia was called out on strikes, Marte tripled to left.
The rookie has tripled in three consecutive games.
"They come in bunches," Hurdle said. "I think the young man has an opportunity to possibly lead the league in triples someday. That's just a lot of usable speed out there. That's the biggest swing of the night for us."
Wood (6-12) worked 5 2-3 innings, giving up four hits. He walked one and struck out a career-high nine.
Hurdle said his team stayed relaxed during the rain delay by watching videos and the Broncos-Falcons NFL game.
"We had plenty of time on our hands," Hurdle said. "We made good use of it.
"Most of these guys know, you're playing 20 (games) in 20 (days). There's no days off. They're not going to reschedule unless the weather just goes way bad. You're here for a while. Professionally, they just settled in and just waited to play."
Pittsburgh loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth, but reliever Michael Bowden retired Holt on a grounder.
Trying to play spoiler and avoid a 100-loss season, the Cubs (58-89) had won seven of eight.
"These guys started talking about it a couple of weeks ago, about (not) losing 100 games. That's their motivating factor, as well as all of us, because nobody wants to be associated with that," Sveum said before the game. "To be able to sit back and knock people out of the playoffs or knock them one game less, that's (also) what you get motivated (for) in September when you're out of it."
NOTES: Pittsburgh returns home to host Milwaukee on Tuesday night. A.J. Burnett (15-7) faces Brewers ace Yovani Gallardo (15-8). ... The Cubs host NL Central-leading Cincinnati beginning Tuesday night, and Sveum said he doesn't want the Reds to clinch the division title this week at Wrigley Field. "Nobody wants anybody to clinch on your turf, that's for sure," Sveum said. "It's inevitable that they'll end up clinching, you just don't want them to do it at your place." ... Wood had struck out eight batters three times. ... Barney extended his career-best hitting streak to 12 games with a second-inning single. ... Bryan LaHair has received limited playing time since the arrival of 1B Anthony Rizzo from the minors. Sveum said LaHair's best bet is to play in the offseason. "I think for his sake he needs to go play winter ball and get those at-bats he missed out on and be ready for spring training like he was this year," Sveum said. ... Pirates 2B Neil Walker was out of the starting lineup. Walker played in the previous three games after missing 15 because of lower back pain. Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said Walker needed a day to rest. ... The State College Spikes, the Pirates' short-season Class-A affiliate, announced a two-year player development contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. The Spikes had been affiliated with the Pirates since 2007. Pittsburgh will have to find a new short-season affiliate.