The Pittsburgh Pirates are coming off a three-game sweep of a playoff contender and are on the brink of their longest winning streak of the season.
General manager Dave Littlefield isn’t impressed.
“Being (eight) games under .500 doesn’t give me a warm and fuzzy feeling about being in the (pennant) race,” Littlefield said.
The Pirates hope to begin changing Littlefield’s mind as they shoot for their season-high fifth straight win in the opener of a four-game series with the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.
Pittsburgh completed a three-game sweep of the Houston Astros—their first at home this season—with Sunday’s 8-3 win. Aramis Ramirez hit one of Pittsburgh’s three homers and drove in four runs to support Jeff D’Amico’s four-hitter.
The Pirates have won four straight for the fourth time this season and have also taken 13 of 20 since dropping six straight. They have not won five in a row since a six-game run from April 15-21, 2002.
Despite the turnaround, which has helped Pittsburgh close within 6 1/2 games of the NL Central lead, the Pirates are still on pace for their franchise-record 11th consecutive losing season.
They also own the NL’s third-worst record and trail four teams in their division. That’s why Littlefield views his team’s recent progress with cautious optimism.
“In certain areas we’re performing better than last year … but another general manager in another city with a team (eight) games under .500 wouldn’t consider his team in the race,” he said.
“Part of my job is to balance the good and the bad and be realistic.”
The Brewers salvaged the finale of their three-game series against the Colorado Rockies with Sunday’s 3-1 win.
“We’ve battled hard all year,” said Geoff Jenkins, who had a sacrifice fly in the third. “If we keep doing that the second half, we’re going to get some more wins.”
STANDINGS: Pirates - 5th place, 6 1/2 GB, NL Central. Brewers - 6th place, 10 1/2 GB, NL Central.
PIRATES PROBABLE STARTER: Kip Wells (2-3, 3.47 ERA). Wells is 0-1 with a 3.48 ERA over his last five starts and hasn’t won since a 4-3 victory over St. Louis on May 31. The 26-year-old left-hander didn’t receive a decision in Pittsburgh’s 4-3 loss to Cincinnati on Wednesday, despite allowing just two runs and eight hits over eight innings. He also struck out six and walked two. Wells is 4-2 with a 3.24 ERA in seven career starts against Milwaukee.
BREWERS PROBABLE STARTER: Wayne Franklin (4-5, 4.95 ERA). Franklin is 1-0 with a 3.13 ERA over his last three starts and hasn’t lost since a 6-5 setback to Florida on June 11. The left-hander allowed three runs and six hits over seven innings in Milwaukee’s 5-3, 11-inning win over Houston on Wednesday. In nine career relief appearances against Pittsburgh, Franklin is 0-0 with a 6.35 ERA.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Pirates - Brian Giles, .311 avg.; Reggie Sanders, 14 HRs; Ramirez, 52 RBIs; Kenny Lofton, 54 runs and 16 SBs. Brewers - Scott Podsednik, .323 avg.; Sexson, 23 HRs; Jenkins, 67 RBIs; Sexon and Eric Young, 56 runs; Young, 19 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Brewers, 2-1.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Pirates - LHP Wells has an NL-high 10 no-decisions in his 15 starts, with the bullpen failing to hold leads for him six times. … OF Giles has reached base safely in 42 of his last 43 games, batting .346 (56-for-162) with 32 RBIs during the stretch. … OF Matt Stairs is hitting .379 (25-for-66) with six doubles, eight homers and 17 RBIs in 24 games since returning from the DL June 10. Brewers - 1B Sexson (23) and LF Jenkins (20) are the first Brewers teammates to both have 20 or more homers before the All-Star game. … CF Podsednik has reached base safely in 36 straight games, the longest current streak in the majors … Manager Ned Yost said 1B Sexson and LF Jenkins were all but off-limits as far as being traded to a contender, but said 2B Young should be attractive to several teams needing help in the infield. Sexson was named to the NL All-Star team Sunday.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Pirates - 19-20 on the road; Brewers - 16-29 at home.
INJURIES: Pirates - INF Randall Simon (hand), 15-day DL; INF Pat Meares (hand), 60-day DL; INF Pokey Reese (thumb), 60-day DL; LHP Dave Williams (shoulder), 60-day DL. Brewers - RHP Jayson Durocher (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Nick Neugebauer (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Ruben Quevedo (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Todd Ritchie (shoulder), 15-day DL.