D-backs open big Eastern road trip in Pittsburgh

The surging Diamondbacks, winners of three straight and six of their last eight, can’t do much right now about the Los Angeles bleeping Dodgers, who are 7 1/2 games clear in the NL West. The D-backs’ best chance on that front will come when they play the Dodgers seven times in 11 days starting Sept. 9.

But until then, they can hope to make a move in the wild-card standings on their last Eastern road swing of the season, which begins Friday in Pittsburgh. The D-backs also play four games in Cincinnati on a 10-game trip that ends in Philadelphia next weekend.

Pittsburgh’s emergence as a challenger to perennial division powers St. Louis and Cincinnati has made the NL Central the best division in the league this season, and all three of those teams would make the playoffs were the season to end right now.

The Pirates (71-49) have the second-best record in the NL, and they lead the Cardinals by two games and the Reds by 2 1/2.  

The D-backs’ immediate focus is gaining on the Reds, who hold a six-game lead for the final wild-card spot. It all starts with three games at PNC Park, where the Pirates are tough to beat. Pittsburgh is 41-20 at home, the second-best home record in the majors.

The series features the NL’s two home run leaders, Paul Goldschmidt and Pedro Alvarez, who have 29 apiece. Goldschmidt also leads the NL with 93 RBIs and is tied for second with a .939 OPS.  

PITCHING MATCHUPS: Friday: RHP Brandon McCarthy (2-6, 4.73 ERA) vs. RHP Gerrit Cole (5-5, 3.95). Saturday: RHP Trevor Cahill (3-10, 4.66) vs. LHP Jeff Locke (9-3, 2.43). Sunday: LHP Wade Miley (9-8, 3.63) vs. RHP Charlie Morton (4-3, 3.79).     

WHO’S HOT FOR THE D-BACKS: Martin Prado has 20 hits in his last 55 at-bats (.364), with seven doubles, a home run and 11 RBIs in his last 13 games. He has hit safely in eight of his last nine games. … Setup man J.J. Putz has made 14 consecutive scoreless appearances, with a victory and five holds. … Gerardo Parra has eight hits in his last 22 at-bats (.364), with five extra-base hits, two stolen bases and five runs scored. … Wil Nieves has a six-game hitting streak, which includes his first homer of the season and three RBIs. … Brad Ziegler has given up one earned run in his last 15 2/3 innings, with seven saves and two victories.

WHO’S NOT: Joe Thatcher has given up four hits and three runs in his last four appearances. He has given up a hit to the only batter he has faced in his last two outings. … A.J. Pollock has seven hits in his last 39 at-bats. … Paul Goldschmidt has three hits in his last 16 at-bats, but two were home runs, the game-tying and game-winning shots against the Orioles on Tuesday.

WHO’S HOT FOR THE PIRATES: Andrew McCutchen has multi-hit games in six of his last 11, with two homers and eight RBIs in that span. … Neil Walker has 15 hits in his last 42 at-bats. … Starling Marte leads the NL with 10 triples and is the first Pirates outfielder with at least 10 doubles, 10 triples and 10 homers since since Andy Van Slyke in 1982. Marte also has 34 stolen bases. … New closer Mark Melancon, filling in for the injured Jason Grilli, has not given up an earned run in his last nine appearances. … Russell Martin has eight hits in his last 23 at-bats, and he homered Thursday.

WHO’S NOT: Alvarez has six hits in his last 35 at-bats. … Gerrit Cole, the first pick in the 2011 draft out of UCLA, has given up 10 earned runs in his last 17 1/3 innings and has lost five of his last six decisions. … After starting 8-1, Locke has won one of his last six starts. Right-handed hitters, though, are batting only .186 against Locke this season.

NOTES, QUOTES, ODDS AND ENDS: The Pirates appear certain to break a 20-year losing streak under NL Manager of the Year favorite Clint Hurdle. Pittsburgh has not had a winning record since 1992, when it was 96-66 before losing to Atlanta in the NLCS and losing free agent Barry Bonds to San Francisco in the offseason. That streak of losing seasons in the longest ever in the four major sports. The Pirates were 63-47 on Aug. 8 last year before fading to finish 79-83, although they stayed in wild-card contention until late September. … Cahill and McCarthy were hit around a little when the teams met in a three-game series at Chase Field from April 8-10, when the Pirates won two of three. Cahill gave up four earned runs in five innings and McCarthy gave up six runs, four earned, in 6 1/3 innings. … The D-backs were 20-9 against the Pirates from 2006-09 but have not won the season series since. … Grilli, an All-Star who has 30 saves and a 2.34 ERA, suffered a strained right flexor tendon on July 22 and has not pitched since. The closing job has gone to Melancon, an Arizona product who has seven saves and an 0.81 ERA. … Cahill will make his first start since June 30, when he gave up three home runs in a 6-2 loss to the Braves in Atlanta. Cahill lost his lsat six decisions and saw his ERA spike to 4.66 from a 2.48 before missing six weeks with a right hip contusion.