Despite taking a hard-luck loss his last time out, Francisco Liriano has given the Pittsburgh Pirates a big lift.
Chicago Cubs starter Travis Wood also has thrived on the mound - and at the plate.
Liriano takes the hill opposite Wood as the visiting Pirates try to avoid losing four straight for the first time in two months Friday against the Cubs.
Having struck out 39 and walked nine over 29 innings, Liriano (3-2, 2.17 ERA) has been superb since missing the first six weeks with a fractured forearm. He's allowed one or no runs in four of his five outings.
The left-hander was brilliant again Saturday in a 2-0 loss to Cincinnati, yielding one run and four hits over six innings while striking out a season-high 11.
"Yeah, we'll go there," manager Clint Hurdle told MLB's official website when asked if that was Liriano's best start. "But wow, he was really good. He competes out there."
Liriano delivered a similar performance in a 1-0 win over Chicago (24-33) on May 22, striking out nine over seven innings of two-hit ball.
"He just kept us off balance, and we couldn't get anything going," Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney said. "He looked really good."
Liriano now pitches at Wrigley Field for the first time as he tries to get the best of Wood (5-3, 2.75), who ranks among the NL leaders with a .194 opponents' batting average. The left-hander also has come through in a big way offensively, going 5 for 10 with two homers and seven RBIs over his last four starts.
In his most recent game, Wood allowed two runs over six innings and hit a grand slam during an 8-3 win over the White Sox last Thursday.
"Woody can flat-out hit," manager Dale Sveum said. "He hits any fastball."
Wood gave up one hit over six scoreless innings to beat the Pirates 3-2 in his season debut April 4. He's 2-1 with a 1.53 ERA over his last three starts against them, surrendering six hits and striking out 18 over 17 2-3 innings.
He's had his way with several Pittsburgh hitters, including Andrew McCutchen (1 for 13), Pedro Alvarez (1 for 9), Gaby Sanchez (1 for 8), Clint Barmes (2 for 15), Starling Marte (2 for 11) and Garrett Jones (0 for 5).
Marte is the only active Pirates player to take Wood deep, but he's mired in a 4-for-32 slump. Jones also has struggled of late, going 8 for his last 47.
The Pirates (35-25) enter this three-game set having dropped five of six by a 29-11 margin. They have batted .162 in that span after being held to one hit Wednesday in a 5-0 loss at Atlanta, which completed a three-game sweep.
"Adversity's going to knock on your door throughout the season," said Hurdle, whose team dropped a season-worst four straight April 4-7. "With everything that's gone on, we're going to walk out of here and we're 10 games over .500. We've just got to continue to keep playing."
The Cubs return home after beating the Los Angeles Angels 8-6 on Wednesday on Anthony Rizzo's three-run double in the 10th inning.
"I want to be in that situation," said Rizzo, who had gone 3 for 16 without an RBI over the previous five games. "Even when you're feeling down at the plate, it takes one pitch, one at-bat, one swing. So that's what you've got to go by."
Rizzo is 1 for 22 in the season series with Pittsburgh as the Cubs have dropped four of six, most recently suffering a three-game sweep May 21-23.
McCutchen went 5 for 12 in that series and has recorded half of his 14 steals against Chicago this year. He's batting .427 with five homers, 24 runs and 16 RBIs over his last 25 games at Wrigley.