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Pittsburgh at Chicago

Venue: Wrigley Field
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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.

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
 
 
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Probable Starters

James McDonald, RHP
2012 stats
167.1 Innings Pitched 11.0
12-7 Wins-Losses 0-2
3.93 Earned Run Average 5.73
64 Walks 6
149 Strikeouts 9
97 Pitches Per Start 67
Career vs. opponent
31.0 Innings Pitched 5.0
0-2 Wins-Losses 0-0
5.23 Earned Run Average 1.80

Chris Rusin, HP
Weather
weather image  Morning clouds. Mild.
Hi TempLo TempWindHumidityPrecip %
73°F51°F7mph/NW38%6%
Standings
TeamStandingsWLPct.GBL 10Strk
Pittsburgh3rd NL Central6462.50872-8 L 7
Chi Cubs5th NL Central5570.44015 ½ 6-4 W 3
BATTER VS. PITCHER (Career)
vs Chris Rusin
PlayerABHHRBBSOAVG
Alvarez21001.500
McCutchen21110.500
Locke21001.500
Jones31000.333
Holt31000.333
 
BATTER VS. PITCHER (Career)
vs James McDonald
PlayerABHHRBBSOAVG
Campana32000.667
DeJesus52011.400
Castillo31000.333
Barney134010.308
Castro144112.286
 

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Game Odds
AwayLineHomeLine
Pittsburgh -135 Chi. Cubs 125
Injuries
Pittsburgh
PlayerInjury
C. BarmesGroin
G. ColeLat
C. MortonHip
S. PimentelAnkle
Chi Cubs
PlayerInjury
F. DoubrontCalf
J. McDonaldShoulder
B. SchlitterShoulder
 
Series Game Log
DateatResult/TimeWinnerLoser
May 26SFCHC 8-4Samardzija Petit 
May 27SFSF 4-0Hudson Arrieta 
May 28SFSF 5-0Kontos Jackson 
Aug 19CHCCHC 2-0Wada Vogelsong 
Aug 20CHC 8:05 PM EDT  
Aug 21CHC 8:05 PM EDT