Their collective issues may be costing them a trip to the postseason, and the Milwaukee Brewers are surely thrilled to take advantage of that.
In replacing McDonald, the rapidly fading Pirates are scheduled to give rookie Kyle McPherson his first career start in an effort to avoid a six-game slide to the Brewers on Wednesday night.
McDonald was pulled from the rotation after going 2-5 with a 6.66 ERA in 10 starts after starting the year 10-3 with a 2.93 ERA.
Pittsburgh (74-73) has seen enough after he went 0-2 with 10.50 ERA in his last three outings, including Friday's 7-4 defeat at Chicago. McDonald surrendered four runs with four walks in 3 2-3 innings.
"As the games count down, we've got to look to give ourselves the best shot to win a game," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Sometimes the realization something's been taken away, maybe that can help him ... a different kind of route, as far as focus, as far as attention."
The same could be said for the rest of the Pirates, who have dropped 13 of 17 after falling 6-0 to Milwaukee in the opener of this important three-game set between teams vying for a wild-card spot.
Pittsburgh is one-half game behind Philadelphia and one game behind the Brewers (75-72), who are 2 1/2 back of St. Louis for the NL's second wild-card position. Los Angeles trails the Cardinals by 1 1/2 games.
In an effort to spark the Pirates, Hurdle is turning to McPherson (0-0, 1.54 ERA), who has made seven relief appearances - none lasting longer than two innings.
The right-hander went 3-6 with a 3.22 ERA in 12 starts in the minors this year.
"There are many people who speak highly of him throughout our organization," Hurdle said. "We'd like to see what he can do."
Hurdle probably didn't like what he saw from McPherson against Milwaukee on Aug. 31, when he allowed one run with three strikeouts, two walks and two hit batters in 1 2-3 innings.
The Brewers have won 21 of 27 while averaging 6.0 runs and batting .292.
That doesn't seem likely to change much since they're hitting .322 with 10 homers and 20 stolen bases during a five-game winning streak against the Pirates.
Milwaukee swiped seven bases in the opener of this series, one shy of the franchise record set at Toronto on Aug. 29, 1992. That season the Brewers had a team-record 256 steals, and their 142 this year are the most since.
"I think people have always perceived us as a team that relies on the home run," said Ryan Braun , who needs three more steals for back-to-back seasons with at least 30 homers and 30 steals. "Well, we really don't. We're pretty good at running the bases."
Braun is hitting .429 with two homers and four RBIs in five games, and his three stolen bases Tuesday were a career high.
Marco Estrada (3-6, 3.77 ERA) is expected to get the ball, and he's 3-1 with a 1.52 ERA with 38 strikeouts in 29 2-3 innings over his past five starts.
The right-hander's recent success includes allowing one run while striking out 10 in seven innings while not getting a decision in a 3-2 home win over Pittsburgh on Sept. 1.
Overall, he's 2-0 with a 1.76 ERA in seven games - four starts - against the Pirates.
Estrada last took the mound Sept. 11 in a 5-0 victory over Atlanta, yielding four hits and fanning six in 6 2-3 innings.
Historically, he's struggled when being rested for six days or more between starts, going 1-4 with a 6.25 ERA in eight games.
|September 12, 2012||Carlos Gomez||Day-to-Day||Left game - right quad contusion|
|September 09, 2012||Ryan Braun||Day-to-Day||Left game - sore right wrist|
|September 09, 2012||Corey Hart||Day-to-Day||Left game - sprained left ankle|
|July 29, 2012||Aramis Ramirez||Day-to-Day||Sore left wrist|
|July 17, 2012||Ryan Braun||Day-to-Day||Right thigh strain|
|June 15, 2012||Shaun Marcum||60-Day DL||Right elbow tightness|
|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|
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- John Axford looked to his left and the St. Louis Cardinals- Houston Astros game was on one clubhouse television. He looked to another TV on his right and saw the Los Angeles Dodgers playing the Washington Nationals .
The Milwaukee Brewers closer smiled.
"We're not scoreboard watching," Axford said. "Not at all."
Axford was fibbing, of course.
Marco Estrada pitched seven scoreless innings and rookie shortstop Jean Segura hit a double and triple Wednesday night as the surging Brewers stayed in contention for a postseason berth with a 3-1 victory over the fading Pittsburgh Pirates .
Estrada (4-6) allowed three hits and retired the last 10 batters he faced in improving to 4-1 with a 1.23 ERA in his last six starts. He struck out four and walked one.
"We're just having a lot of fun," Estrada said as he teammates roared in the background while watching Washington post a six-run inning. "That's the great thing about our team. We have a real fun group and I think that's helped us this season. Even when it looked like we were out of it, we never gave up. We just kept playing."
Estrada wound up having more fun than he expected. He said he felt "weird" while warming up before the game because he had gone seven days between starts.
"It took me a while to feel comfortable," Estrada said. "I felt like I hadn't pitch in a long time."
Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke felt the extra rest helped Estrada.
"I know pitchers like to stay in their routine but when you get to this time of the season guys need more time off," Roenicke said. "The extra days off can really help and they did in Marco's case. His command wasn't really good early but it got a lot better as the game went on."
Axford worked around Andrew McCutchen 's leadoff home run in the ninth inning, his 29th, for his 30th save in 38 opportunities. The homer broke a string of 22 scoreless innings for the Pittsburgh bullpen.
Milwaukee has won four straight games, seven of eight and 22 of 28. They entered the day 2 1-2 games behind St. Louis in the race for the second NL wild card.
The Brewers were 12 1-2 games out of the second wild card on Aug. 19, three weeks after trading ace pitcher Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels .
"If anything, the Greinke trade gave us some motivation," Axford said. "We didn't feel in the clubhouse like we were out of it. We never gave up."
Pittsburgh has lost 14 of 18 and 20 of 27 to drop to 74-74, the first time they have been at .500 since they were 26-26 on June 2. The Pirates, who began the day 3 1-2 games behind the Cardinals, have had 19 consecutive losing seasons, a major North American professional sports record.
"We haven't played well and it's been for a while," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "So, you know, we had earned the position we were in before; we've earned this position as well. The season's 162 games for a reason."
Milwaukee's Norichika Aoki led off the game by hitting rookie Kyle McPherson 's second pitch into the stands in right for his ninth home run. Aoki, Segura and Rickie Weeks each had two of the Brewers' 11 hits.
McPherson (0-1) took the loss in his first major league start, giving up two runs and seven hits in 4 1-3 innings. The Brewers scored their other run off McPherson in the fifth inning. Segura hit a leadoff double, advanced on a balk and scored on Estrada's single.
McPherson had made seven relief appearances, posting a 1.54 ERA, and was moved into the rotation in place of James McDonald , who was 2-5 with a 6.66 ERA in his last 10 games.
Segura tripled to lead off the seventh and scored when second baseman Brock Holt was charged with an error for mishandling Estrada's grounder. That put Milwaukee ahead 3-0.
McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez had two hits apiece for Pittsburgh.
The Brewers have won six straight games against Pittsburgh.
"Sometimes you just have your mojo against another team and that seems to be the case with us against the Pirates," Roenicke said.
NOTES: Pittsburgh 2B Neil Walker sat out for the second time in three days because of lower back soreness, an injury that caused him to miss 15 straight games from Aug. 29-Sept. 14, though he did walk as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning. Hurdle said Walker's availability will be determined on a daily basis for the remainder of the season. ... Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin is on the trip along with the rest of the Brewers' baseball operations staff as they are holding player evaluation meetings with Roenicke and the coaching staff. ... Rookie RHP Mike Fiers (9-7, 3.23) is scheduled to pitch for Milwaukee against LHP Wandy Rodriguez (11-13, 3.65) on Thursday in the finale of the three-game series. Rodriguez is 4-1 with a 1.83 ERA in his last six games, including one relief appearance.