Padres-Pirates Preview

The San Diego Padres are playing the role of spoiler

perfectly.

The Pittsburgh Pirates will look to avoid a four-game sweep at

the hands of the red-hot Padres when they face off at PNC Park on

Thursday.

This week was supposed to be a chance for Pittsburgh, Cincinnati

and St. Louis to all take advantage of playing teams that will not

be headed to the postseason.

The Reds have, sweeping a three-game series from last-place

Houston. The Cardinals have as well, taking two of their first

three against last-place Colorado.

The Pirates, however, are in danger of suffering their first

four-game home sweep to the Padres since Aug. 8-11, 1996.

They took a 2-1 lead Wednesday on Andrew McCutchen’s two-run

homer in the seventh inning only to watch Mark Melancon blow his

third save as the Padres scored two in the ninth to hand Pittsburgh

a 3-2 loss.

Pittsburgh (87-65), which managed three hits Wednesday and has

been held to four runs in this series, has fallen two games back of

St. Louis in the NL Central and holds a one-half game lead over

Cincinnati for the NL’s top wild-card spot. The Pirates remain six

games up on Washington for a postseason berth.

“I know we can do a lot better of a job than what we’re doing

right now,” McCutchen said. “We only have so many more games left.

It’s time to get going. We don’t have time to be making it as close

as it’s been these past few days. We have the offense to do those

things, to score runs.”

Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez are part of the offensive woes.

Walker is in a 2-for-36 slump, while Alvarez is hitless in 17

at-bats.

The sputtering offense puts extra pressure on rookie Gerrit Cole

(8-7, 3.33 ERA), who will look to win his third straight start.

Cole has strung together six straight quality starts, yielding a

single home run. He has been particularly good in three September

outings, posting a 1.35 ERA with 21 strikeouts in 20 innings.

“You never know where surprises are going to come from,” Pirates

manager Clint Hurdle said. “You didn’t know where he was going to

be able to take you this season but his actions are speaking loud

and clear.”

The right-hander struck out seven Saturday, permitting a run in

seven innings in a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs.

The Padres (71-80) have won 11 of 15, and lead the majors with

153 strikeouts this month. Their bullpen has given up two hits over

13 scoreless innings.

Ian Kennedy (6-9, 4.85) is among the Padres faring well at the

moment.

Since losing five straight decisions to end his time in Arizona,

the right-hander is 3-1 with a 3.86 ERA. Kennedy held Atlanta to

three runs in six innings but didn’t get a decision in Friday’s 4-3

win.

Kennedy, whose 25 home runs surrendered is tied for second-worst

in the NL, allowed two in the Braves’ three-run fourth inning.

Pittsburgh catcher Russell Martin, 4 for 40 since Sept. 2, will

likely sit Thursday.

“I want him ready for Cincinnati (Friday),” Hurdle told the

team’s official website.

San Diego has won 14 of 15 at PNC Park and is 31-10 all-time at

the ballpark.

“There is no rhythm or reason to it,” manager Bud Black said.

“If we knew why, we would try to bottle it and take it with us

wherever we go.”