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.
The Pirates, who decided before Sunday's game that the struggling James McDonald - who started Friday - would be removed from the rotation, will go with Kevin Correia (10-9, 4.29).
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.
Pittsburgh's Pedro Alvarez also hit two homers Sunday, and passed Andrew McCutchen for the team lead with 29.
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.