One reason the Pittsburgh Pirates ended over two decades of frustration a year ago was their major league-best 15-5 interleague mark.
That included a nine-game road win streak to close the season against AL opponents that Pittsburgh will try to extend Tuesday night in the opener of a two-game series with the Baltimore Orioles.
Pittsburgh (10-16) has yet to play outside the NL Central as it opens a five-game interleague stretch. The Pirates haven’t fared well, losing eight of 10 following Sunday’s 7-0 loss at St. Louis.
"I don’t know if I’ve ever been involved in something like this before," manager Clint Hurdle told the Pirates’ official website. "We don’t make up the schedule, just play it."
Pittsburgh dominated AL teams in 2013 en route to its first playoff appearance in 21 years thanks to its pitching. The Pirates’ 2.23 interleague ERA ranked second in the majors and their .199 opponents’ batting average ranked first.
The Pirates have been let down this year by a starting staff that owns baseball’s worst record at 3-13, including 1-8 with a 4.68 ERA in the last 14 games.
Baltimore (12-12), meanwhile, has seen its fortune at the plate at home reversed this season. The Orioles averaged 4.7 runs at home a year ago for baseball’s fourth-best mark but are at a major league-worst 2.6 this year, totaling six runs in losing two of three to Kansas City over the weekend.
"It’s one of those things you can’t really know why what’s going on but hopefully the next series we come up and score some runs for the pitchers," said Nelson Cruz, whose two-run homer in Sunday’s 9-3 loss gave him 18 RBIs in the last 10 games.
Slugger Chris Davis was placed on the disabled list over the weekend with a strained left oblique. Davis led all AL players with a .427 interleague average last year.
"There are going to be injuries – that’s why you have a 40-man roster," center fielder Adam Jones told the Orioles’ official website. "That’s why you have guys in the minor leagues. Now, you have guys that are backups. You never know what could happen."
Jones is batting .186 at home, Cruz is at .189 and Jonathan Schoop .179.
Those hitters will try to add to the woes of Pirates starter Charlie Morton (0-3, 4.35 ERA), who is 0-5 with a 4.16 ERA in his last 11 outings, including one in the postseason. The right-hander also lost his lone start to Baltimore in 2011.
Morton dropped his third straight outing last Wednesday when he gave up four runs in six innings and matched a career worst with five walks in a 5-2 defeat to Cincinnati.
"There were times were I was trying to go inside on left-handed hitters and missing in the right-handed batter’s box," he said. "I was literally missing by three feet."
Baltimore starter Chris Tillman (3-1, 3.38) has never faced Pittsburgh. Tillman has a 0.69 ERA at home compared to 5.21 on the road.
The right-hander seeks a third straight victory after being fortunate to beat Toronto on Wednesday, giving up seven runs over 5 2-3 innings in a 10-8 road win.
The Orioles have won seven of 12 interleague meetings from the Pirates, going 5-1 at home.