Padres-Pirates Preview

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ free-fall is showing few signs of

ending. The light-hitting, last-place San Diego Padres hope to keep

capitalizing on it.

The Pirates will try to snap a pair of lengthy losing streaks by

beating the Padres at PNC Park for the first time in nearly two

years Saturday night.

Atop the NL Central just over a week ago, Pittsburgh (54-57) has

lost eight straight to drop eight games back of division-leading

Milwaukee. The Pirates could fall to fourth place Saturday if they

lose while Cincinnati wins.

This is their longest skid since dropping 12 in a row from June

6-18, 2010.

They suffered their most lopsided defeat of the season to open

this three-game series, falling 15-5 as the Padres (49-64)

collected season highs in runs and homers (four).

“We need to step up. We know it. We’ve talked about it,” manager

Clint Hurdle said. “We need action now, and we need to find a way

to fight through the hard part of the season.”

Pittsburgh has dropped seven in a row at home to San Diego since

a victory Sept. 18, 2009.

The Pirates have lost all four starts Paul Maholm (6-11, 3.27

ERA) has made against the Padres – all at PNC Park. He has a 3.71

ERA in those matchups but has been given just four runs of support,

going 0-3.

He’s entering this meeting on a similar run overall, going 0-2

with a 4.88 ERA in four starts that have ended in Pittsburgh

defeats.

Maholm allowed one run in seven innings at Atlanta on July 27,

then held Chicago to one through five frames Monday before

surrendering three runs in the sixth of a 5-3 defeat.

The Padres, who occupy the NL West basement, will try to solve

Maholm again despite ranking among the worst offensive teams in

baseball with a .234 average, 62 homers and 3.6 runs per game.

Their 946 strikeouts are the most in the majors, 52 more than the

next-worst team – Washington.

Chase Headley leads San Diego with a .292 average and had two

hits Friday, including a grand slam while collecting a career-high

five RBIs. He’s 10 for 25 with five doubles, two homers and eight

RBIs in his last six games at Pittsburgh.

“You ask anybody, they’ll tell you hitting’s contagious,” said

left fielder Kyle Blanks, who was 2 for 5 with his first homer of

the season Friday.

The Padres turn to Cory Luebke (3-6, 3.21), who has lost his

last three starts while compiling a 5.40 ERA.

The rookie left-hander had been 2-1 with a 1.50 ERA in his first

four outings after joining the rotation two months ago. In Monday’s

6-2 defeat to Los Angeles, he surrendered five runs and 10 hits in

a career-high 7 1-3 innings.

“He’s throwing the ball fine,” manager Bud Black said. “Corey’s

not a secret any more. He’s made a number of starts, he’s been in

the big leagues the entire season, so teams are getting multiple

looks at him. He’ll continue to make progress, he’s going to be

fine.”

Luebke’s only appearance against the Pirates was three scoreless

innings of relief in a 4-3 loss May 2.