The Pittsburgh Pirates and Milwaukee Brewers scored the most runs in the NL Central last season, but they’re struggling ahead of this weekend’s series at PNC Park.
The opener could be a low-scoring affair Friday night given how starters Jimmy Nelson and Jeff Locke fared last weekend.
After averaging 4.2 and 4.0 runs in 2014, Pittsburgh ranks 24th in the majors with 3.2 while Milwaukee is 26th with 2.9. The Pirates (3-6) were effective in Milwaukee last weekend with 6-2 and 10-2 victories, then won 5-4 at home against Detroit on Monday. However, they were shut out in back-to-back games while totaling five hits Tuesday and Wednesday.
Andrew McCutchen has two home runs and seven RBI but is batting .207 a year after hitting .314. He’s been a slow starter at times, though, with a career April batting average of .266 — his lowest in any month. He hit .194 through his first 10 games last year.
Josh Harrison is at .194 after batting .315 in 2014, and the entire team appears less patient. The Pirates drew an NL-high 520 walks last year but haven’t earned one in the past four games.
"We’re just a tick off and sometimes a tick off is a lot at the major league level," manager Clint Hurdle said.
The Brewers (2-7) went 5 for 27 with runners in scoring position while dropping two of three at St. Louis this week, stranding 19 runners in back-to-back losses to end the series.
Adam Lind is 3 for 20 in the last five after starting 8 for 13.
"It’s still way too early for any changes," manager Ron Roenicke said. "We just together need to string a bunch of stuff together so we can score. It’s hard to get a rally going with two outs and score a lot of runs."
Jonathan Lucroy is hitting .148, though he’s 6 for 15 against Locke and has batted .375 in his last 10 games at Pittsburgh.
"We’ve got to do something to figure it out," Lucroy said. "I’m including myself in that because I’ve been pretty awful."
Improvement could be difficult without Carlos Gomez, who is expected to go on the disabled list with a strained hamstring. Gomez led Milwaukee with 95 runs, 23 homers and 34 stolen bases in 2014.
Nelson was lights out in a 6-0 home win over Pittsburgh on Saturday, giving up two hits over seven innings while striking out a career-high nine.
"He has so much movement on his fastball that you have to be ready for it . . . he dropped a lot of first pitch curveballs in there," Roenicke said. "If he can continue to do that, he’s going to have a fun year."
The right-hander is 1-2 with a 2.60 ERA in five career road starts.
Locke (1-0, 3.00) beat the Brewers 6-2 last Friday, giving up two runs and seven hits over six innings. He’s 3-2 with a 3.86 ERA in eight starts against Milwaukee.
Jean Segura, Aramis Ramirez and Khris Davis have struggled when facing the left-hander, going a combined 7 for 49 (.143), and Milwaukee has only three extra-base hits in 41 at-bats against southpaws.