Pirates-Cubs Preview

Finishing with a losing record for a 20th straight season seemed

unthinkable for the Pittsburgh Pirates just over a month ago, but

heading into the final two weeks of 2012, it is suddenly a distinct

possibility.

The lowly Chicago Cubs haven’t helped with this matter.

Having lost five of six meetings in the last 10 days, the

scuffling Pirates will likely be glad to say goodbye to the Cubs in

Monday night’s season series finale at Wrigley Field.

By coughing up a five-run lead in Sunday’s 13-9 defeat,

Pittsburgh (73-72) lost for the eighth time in nine games. The

Pirates, who haven’t finished with a winning record since 1992,

were a season-high 16 games over .500 on Aug. 8, but are now one

loss from dropping back to the break-even mark for the first time

since June 2, when they were 26-26.

“We are just not getting the job done,” manager Clint Hurdle

said.

Despite going 6-18 since Aug. 20, Pittsburgh is still within

three games of St. Louis for the NL’s second wild-card spot. It has

a chance to get closer with the Cardinals off Monday, but to do

that it needs to beat Chicago (58-88) – and that hasn’t come

easy.

The Cubs swept a three-game set in Pittsburgh last weekend and

have won two of three in this series.

“We kept fighting the last couple of days and showing some

resilience,” said Anthony Rizzo, who hit a grand slam and a

two-run homer Sunday to drive in a career-best six runs.

Excluding the games with the Pirates, though, Chicago is 5-11

since Aug. 25.

Travis Wood (6-11, 4.23 ERA) thoroughly frustrated Pittsburgh on

Sept. 7, allowing a hit and three walks over six shutout innings of

a 12-2 victory. He followed that up by yielding a run and four hits

over 7 2-3 innings in Wednesday’s 5-1 victory in Houston.

This is quite a turnaround for the left-hander, who prior to

beating Pittsburgh was 0-8 with a 6.33 ERA over a 10-start

stretch.

The Pirates, who decided before Sunday’s game that the

struggling James McDonald – who started Friday – would be removed

from the rotation, will go with Kevin Correia (10-9, 4.29).

Correia, who has made two starts after a brief stint in the

bullpen, allowed four runs and seven hits over six innings in

Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to Cincinnati. The right-hander is 1-0 with a

2.92 ERA in two starts against the Cubs – both in Pittsburgh – and

has posted a 0.93 ERA in winning his last three at Wrigley.

He hasn’t had much luck, however, against either Rizzo or

Starlin Castro.

Castro, who is batting .385 with eight RBIs in the last six

games versus Pittsburgh, is 7 for 17 lifetime against Correia,

while Rizzo is 2 for 2 with a homer.

Pittsburgh’s Pedro Alvarez also hit two homers Sunday, and

passed Andrew McCutchen for the team lead with 29.

McCutchen appears to be breaking out of his power slump, batting

.385 with four home runs in his last seven games after hitting .247

without a homer in his previous 20.

He is, however, just 1 for 10 lifetime against Wood.