The Pittsburgh Pirates have had fun facing the NL Central’s best teams.
They’ll look for another victory against the Cincinnati Reds when the teams continue their three-game series on Saturday.
The Pirates (47-75) have the NL’s worst record, but haven’t played like it in recent series against St. Louis and Cincinnati (62-60). Pittsburgh swept division-leading St. Louis in three games last weekend and took Friday’s series opener 7-3 over the Reds.
Cincinnati has lost three of four, but still lead Arizona by one game in the wild card race. The Reds trail the Cardinals by 3 1/2 games in the division.
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has won five of its last seven, and snapped a five-game road losing streak with Friday’s victory. Xavier Nady tied a career high with four hits and Freddy Sanchez added four hits, raising his NL-leading average to .351.
Nady hit his first homer since joining the Pirates in a trade from the New York Mets on July 31.
“We were talking before the game about how I haven’t hit one for the Pirates,” Nady said. “I said, “I hope I get it out of the way. You don’t want to start changing your swing and getting into bad habits. When you haven’t hit one in a while, you tend to start pressing and changing your swing.”
Nady’s homer gave Pittsburgh a 5-0 lead in the third inning. It was the Pirates’ fourth win in the last five games against Cincinnati.
“That three-run homer by Nady was as big an at-bat as we’ve had of late,” Pittsburgh manager Jim Tracy said. “We were talking before the game about how we’ve had a lot solo home runs, and to get one with runners on base is really big.”
Sanchez is batting .486 (18-for-37) during a 10-game hitting streak and has opened a wide lead over Florida’s Miguel Cabrera, who’s second in the NL with a .334 average.
To try and continue their solid play, the Pirates will turn to Paul Maholm (5-10, 4.58 ERA), who is coming off one of his best starts of the season. The left-hander threw 6 2-3 scoreless innings against St. Louis on Sunday, allowing just eight hits in a 7-0 victory.
It was his first outing of the season that he didn’t surrender any runs.
“This was a huge confidence builder for us,” Maholm said. “This shows us how we can play. Now that we’ve set the tone, we’re going to play like that for a long time now.”
Since the All-Star break, Maholm hasn’t allowed more than four runs in any of his six starts. He’s 1-1 with a 4.73 ERA in two starts this season against Cincinnati and 2-1 with a 2.96 ERA in four career starts against the Reds.
Eric Milton (8-7, 5.01) looks for another solid outing when he starts for Cincinnati. The left-hander is 2-1 with a 3.20 ERA over his last four starts. He didn’t earn a decision on Sunday against Philadelphia, after allowing five hits and three runs in 5 1-3 innings.
He beat the Pirates on April 7, his first career win against Pittsburgh, but is 1-4 with a 6.65 ERA in nine career starts.