PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Pirates know their only chance of making something out of what is shaping up to be a 15th consecutive losing season is beating the teams ahead of them in the NL Central. So far this week, they're doing exactly that.
Xavier Nady homered and drove in three runs to support Paul Maholm's pitching and hitting, and the Pirates cooled off the Chicago Cubs, winning 8-4 on Friday night for their fourth consecutive victory.
The Cubs had won 11 of 13 and were 21-10 since June 3, the best record in the majors over that span, until being limited to five hits over seven-plus innings by Maholm (5-11). The Cubs are 8-13 against left-handed starters this season and 0-2 against Maholm, who is 4-0 in five career starts against them.
"He's done pretty well against us," Chicago's Ryan Theriot said. "He can throw three different pitches for strike one and he didn't pitch in patterns at all. When he's locating all of his pitches, especially his breaking pitches, he keeps hitters off balance."
Maholm gave up four runs, but two came after he left the game following singles by Alfonso Soriano and Mike Fontenot to start the eighth. He struck out five and walked three in a performance that was more effective than his final numbers showed.
Shawn Chacon walked Derrek Lee to load the bases before giving up sacrifice flies to Aramis Ramirez and Mark DeRosa to cut the Pirates' lead to 7-4, but Freddy Sanchez, who had homered, doubled in a run in the eighth.
Damaso Marte pitched a scoreless ninth in his first save opportunity of the season. Pirates closer Matt Capps got the night off after pitching in three consecutive games.
The Pirates' modest winning streak is their longest since they won a season-high five straight from April 22-27, and all four victories are against the Brewers and Cubs. They won three of four from Milwaukee earlier this week, their first series victory this season against a team with a winning record.
The Cubs fell 5½ games behind in the NL Central when Milwaukee beat Washington 6-2. The Pirates have won six of eight and eight of 11 since losing five straight but remain 10 games back.
"It's a lot more fun when you win," Nady said. "It's nice to see the guys swinging the bats better. It's encouraging."
Nady (Mets) and Adam LaRoche (Braves) both came to Pittsburgh in the last year from winning organizations, and they are trying to help educate their new teammates what it takes to be successful. Hitting like this is one answer -- LaRoche had three homers in two games Wednesday and Thursday, and Nady is 20-for-53 (.377) in his last 13 games.
"We're getting a lot of offense throughout the lineup, good at-bats up and down," said manager Jim Tracy, whose team has scored seven or more runs in four of its last five.
Way down the lineup, too. After Nady and Ryan Doumit singled to start the second, Maholm -- a .138 hitter at the time -- singled into center field off Jason Marquis (6-5) to make it 2-0.
"I was giving them too many pitches to hit in the middle of plate," Marquis said.
Maholm's explanation? "You swing at a fastball and hope you get lucky and hit it in the right spot," he said.
The Cubs tied it in the third, but Sanchez hit his second homer and Nady his 14th in the bottom of the inning against Marquis, who was coming off his first win in 10 starts. Marquis had allowed the Pirates only one run in 17 innings over two starts before permitting six runs and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings.
Doumit and Jose Bautista doubled in runs in the fifth and Nady reached base for the fourth time in as many at-bats with an RBI double in the sixth off reliever Sean Gallagher.
"What else could you ask for?" Tracy said of Nady. "He's a guy who could hit 25 homers and drive in 100 runs primarily as a No. 6 hitter."
Kevin McClatchy, the Pirates CEO and former primary owner, announced earlier Friday he will step down at the end of the season. ... LaRoche went 0-for-5 after getting 17 hits in 37 at-bats during a nine-game hitting streak. ... The Cubs' Rob Bowen was 0-for-22 until he doubled in the third. ... Lee is 0-for-12 on the Cubs' road trip. ... The Pirates are 16-6 in the first game of their last 22 series. ... Friday was the fifth anniversary of Cubs utilityman Daryle Ward's home run on the fly into the Allegheny River beyond the right field stands, the only such homer in PNC Park's seven seasons. He played then for Houston. ... Maholm has lasted at least seven innings in seven of his last nine starts.