Pirates-Phillies Preview

After a bad start to this trip, the Pittsburgh Pirates have taken care of business against a pair of last-place teams to move into playoff position.

They have yet to win five straight and can do so Tuesday night if they improve to 5-0 against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Pittsburgh (75-68) was swept in a three-game set in St. Louis to start this trip but has won every game since, sweeping three from the Chicago Cubs and winning 6-4 in Monday’s opener of this four-game set.

The Pirates are 4 1/2 games behind the first-place Cardinals in the NL Central race. Pittsburgh holds the league’s second wild-card spot and increased its lead Monday to 1 1/2 games over Atlanta and Milwaukee.

”The second wild card has opened up so many opportunities for so many teams, so many cities,” manager Clint Hurdle said. ”It’s been so exciting for fans. For more teams to try and pay attention to it would be chaotic.”

Pittsburgh, which seeks its first five-game run since Aug. 3-8, 2013, figures to have an advantage Tuesday with Edinson Volquez on the mound.

Volquez (11-7, 3.31 ERA) is 3-0 with a 2.02 ERA in his last eight starts, and 4-0 with a 2.15 ERA in his last eight on the road. He is 4-1 against Philadelphia (66-77) in five starts with a 1.72 ERA – his best versus an NL team outside of a 1.64 mark against Miami.

Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are a combined 3 for 14 against Volquez.

One problem for the right-hander is that the Pirates haven’t given him any run support in his last two outings. He pitched 6 1-3 scoreless innings in last Wednesday’s 1-0 defeat to St. Louis.

Volquez will be matched up for the second time against rookie David Buchanan (6-7, 3.95), who he beat in a 3-2 victory July 5. He gave up one run in seven innings while Buchanan yielded three in six, allowing two doubles to Jordy Mercer.

Mercer has two homers and five RBIs during a stretch in which he has three straight two-hit efforts, and Andrew McCutchen has three hits in three straight games.

Neither was the hitting star Monday since Starling Marte fell a triple short of the cycle to extend his modest hitting streak to eight games. Marte is batting .358 with six homers and a 1.018 OPS over his last 28 games.

”I’ve been more comfortable,” he said. ”We are in a very good spot right now.”

Pittsburgh’s Josh Harrison missed his third straight game with an ankle injury. The .315 hitter is in contention for the NL batting title with the Phillies’ Ben Revere, who is batting .313.

The Phillies won’t have Jimmy Rollins, who strained his left hamstring after legging out a one-out triple in the fourth inning and was replaced by Freddy Galvis. He says he expects to miss about 10 games.

"Just one of those things reaching out for the bag,” Rollins said. ”It isn’t that severe.”

The Phillies have lost the last five starts by Buchanan, who is 0-2 with a 2.93 ERA in that span. The right-hander gave up four runs – one earned – in four innings Wednesday and didn’t figure in a 7-4 defeat at Atlanta.