The Pittsburgh Pirates couldn't outperform an anemic Chicago Cubs offense during Monday's series opener, but they've managed to provide ample support for James McDonald lately.
The Pirates right-hander might need some more help with red-hot former teammate Paul Maholm starting for the Cubs on Tuesday night.
Pittsburgh (54-41) had outscored opponents 27-12 during a season-high five-game win streak, but managed only singles by NL batting leader Andrew McCutchen and pinch-hitter Josh Harrison in Monday's 2-0 defeat.
"Sometimes you just get shut down," said McCutchen, hitting .373 overall and .448 over his last 36 games. "It happens to the best of teams, and it happens to the worst of teams."
Alfonso Soriano snapped his team's 28-inning scoreless streak with a double in the fourth and drove home an insurance run with another in the ninth. Chicago (39-56), which had four hits, is batting .161 with three runs scored over the last four games.
"It was a bad weekend (in St. Louis) for all of us, so it was nice to get going in the right direction again," Soriano said.
Thankfully for the Cubs, Maholm (8-6, 4.09 ERA) hasn't needed much help lately, going 4-0 with a 0.92 ERA in his last four starts. He gave up one run over eight innings during a 4-2 win over Miami on Thursday.
McDonald (10-3, 2.93) has produced a career-high five-game win streak in part due to 44 runs of support. The right-hander gave up a season-high six runs and nine hits over five innings in Colorado on Wednesday but got the win in a 9-6 victory.
He has a 4.23 ERA during his streak, which has spanned six starts, and has allowed 11 runs over his last two.
"He's still growing up. The league fires back, and when you're not sharp, you pay," manager Clint Hurdle said.
McDonald is 0-1 with a 5.09 ERA in three starts against the Cubs, with the most recent matchup Aug. 4 at PNC Park. Geovany Soto hit one of three home runs off the right-hander, his most allowed in one game.
Maholm, who played his first seven seasons with the Pirates, did not get a decision in his only start against his former team May 26. He gave up two runs, four hits and a season-high five walks in Chicago's 3-2 defeat at PNC.
There's a chance he could return to that park as Pittsburgh is rumored to be one of the teams looking to acquire Maholm.
"When the game starts, that's your comfort zone," he told the team's website. "I'm not going to go out there worrying about making a pitch if I'm going to get traded. In 10 days, we'll know how everything will work out."
McCutchen, who had a single and two walks versus Maholm in May, is batting .375 in his last 33 games against the Cubs.
Pittsburgh, 21-5 in its last 26 home games, is seeking to avoid consecutive defeats there for the third time this season and first time since May 22-23. The Pirates followed that losing streak by sweeping three games against the Cubs.