Pirates-Giants Preview

While Jeff Locke insists his back is fine, the results haven’t

been for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ left-hander since the All-Star

break.

Facing the slumping San Francisco Giants may be just what he

needs to get back on track.

Locke hopes to end a season-worst five-start winless drought and

help the visiting Pirates maintain their slim lead in the NL

Central on Thursday night in the opener of this four-game

series.

The Pirates (74-52) received another strong performance on the

mound, but couldn’t generate enough offense with only four hits in

Wednesday’s 2-1 loss in San Diego. The defeat cut their division

lead to one game over St. Louis, which beat Milwaukee.

Pittsburgh’s starters have a 1.67 ERA in four games since

allowing a season-high run total in a 15-5 loss to Arizona on

Saturday.

Locke (9-4, 2.90 ERA) had the worst start of his career in that

contest, allowing eight runs and 10 hits over 2 2-3 innings.

“Any start like that is a reality check,” Locke said following

the shortest of his 36 career starts. “You set your standards high,

you set your goals high and you’re disappointed when you don’t

reach them.”

Locke missed his final turn in the rotation before the All-Star

break because of stiffness in his lower back, but has downplayed

the idea that he may still be feeling the effects of the

injury.

The All-Star, however, hasn’t won since July 21 – his first

outing following the break. He’s 0-2 with a 6.57 ERA with 17 walks

in 24 2-3 innings over his last five starts.

While he’s 4-2 with a 4.15 ERA in 12 home starts, Locke has

pitched much better with a 5-2 record and 1.81 ERA in 12 on the

road.

He may be able to continue that success against a San Francisco

team that has totaled nine runs and gone 1 for 26 with runners in

scoring position while dropping three of four. The Giants (56-70)

fell into last place in the NL West following a 12-1 loss to Boston

and the Padres’ win over the Pirates on Wednesday.

“We’re having a hard time with the bats here,” manager Bruce

Bochy said. “It’s got to get better with the pitching side and the

hitting side.”

Joaquin Arias was a bright spot in the loss with two hits,

including his first home run of the season. Arias went 7 for 14 as

San Francisco dropped two of three in Pittsburgh from June

11-13.

Resurgent Matt Cain (8-8, 4.35) takes the mound looking to pitch

at least seven innings for a sixth straight start.

Since giving up 11 runs over three innings in consecutive July

starts, Cain has gone 3-2 with a 2.41 ERA while limiting opponents

to a .193 batting average in his last six.

He’s been very successful against the Pirates, going 3-0 with a

1.24 ERA in his last six meetings. He hasn’t allowed a run in 15

2-3 innings against them after giving up two hits over 6 2-3 in a

10-0 win at Pittsburgh on June 13.

Andrew McCutchen is batting .441 during an eight-game hitting

streak against the Giants and .444 over his last 18 games overall,

but is 2 for 16 when facing Cain.

Fellow All-Star Pedro Alvarez (0 for 6), Clint Barmes (1 for

18), Gaby Sanchez (2 for 14) and Neil Walker (1 for 8) also haven’t

fared well in this matchup.

The Giants have won 10 of 14 home meetings against the

Pirates.