Backed by strong performances from their banged-up rotation, the Pittsburgh Pirates have moved above .500 for the first time in more than two months.
Tampa Bay’s David Price also has been solid of late, but has gotten little help from the Rays’ inconsistent offense.
With Pittsburgh’s Charlie Morton looking to bounce back from his worst outing, the visiting Pirates go for their season-high fifth straight victory Wednesday against Price and the struggling Rays.
Although the majority of its season-opening rotation is on the disabled list or has been released, Pittsburgh’s starters have posted a 2.17 ERA during the winning streak.
Jeff Locke was the latest to step up for the Pirates (39-38), allowing three runs over 7 1-3 innings before Mark Melancon held on to convert his third straight save opportunity in Tuesday’s 6-5 victory.
Pittsburgh, which had been eight games below the break-even mark, has the best record in the NL since May 6 at 27-18 to move above .500 for the first time since it was 7-6.
The Pirates can now win five in a row for the first time since August by completing their first sweep of the season.
Morton (4-8, 3.47 ERA) allowed a season-high six runs over six innings in a 6-3 road loss to the Chicago Cubs on Friday, but the right-hander had gone 4-1 with a 2.40 ERA in his previous five starts.
Morton, who has never faced Tampa Bay (31-48), has gone 0-5 with a 6.39 ERA in his last six interleague starts.
The last-place Rays should provide a good opportunity to end that slide, as they’ve averaged 3.0 runs and batted .176 with runners in scoring position in their last 26 games.
Tampa Bay went 3 for 8 in those situations Tuesday, but managed one run in the first seven innings until scoring four in the final two. Ben Zobrist went 0 for 5 in the game and is 3 for 29 over his last nine.
The Rays haven’t done much to help Price (5-7, 3.81), totaling nine runs of support for him in his last five starts. As a result, he’s gone 1-3 in that stretch despite posting a 2.58 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 38 1-3 innings.
Price, who has been the subject of trade rumors, has admitted that the ongoing speculation is weighing on him.
"That’s why I’ve been in a bad mood the last week and a half," he told MLB’s official website. "I think about it."
The left-hander will try to stay focused as he takes on a Pittsburgh team that’s totaled 14 runs and 18 hits in this series, and has hit six homers in its last five games. Andrew McCutchen has gone 4 for 9 with four RBIs in the two contests against Tampa Bay.
Neil Walker went 0 for 3 with an RBI in his return Tuesday after being on the disabled list since June 9 because of an appendectomy.
The Pirates are likely to be without Starling Marte after he suffered an apparent concussion during a failed stolen base attempt in the fifth inning. Marte has batted .356 over his last 14 games.
James Loney and Brandon Guyer have been bright spots for Tampa Bay, which has dropped 20 of 28. Loney is 9 for 21 in his last five games while Guyer has gone 14 for 33 in his past eight.