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.