The Los Angeles Dodgers have been playing some of their best baseball of the season lately, but they are having trouble gaining ground in the NL West.
The Dodgers try to improve to a season-high 11 games over .500 when they continue their four-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on Saturday night.
Los Angeles (32-22) defeated the Pirates 5-4 on Friday to win for the seventh time in nine games, and go 10 games over the break-even mark for the second time this year.
Although the Dodgers own the second-best record in the NL, they hardly have a comfortable division lead. They are just percentage points ahead of Arizona - which has won eight straight games - and a game in front of third-place San Diego - which has won eight of 11.
“I’ve been feeling pretty good at the plate,” said Martin, who had just three homers in his first 48 games.
The Dodgers have the third-best ERA in the NL (3.61), and have allowed just five runs in their last four victories.
On Saturday, manager Grady Little hopes to get a solid pitching effort from Hong-Chih Kuo (0-0, 15.43 ERA) as he makes his first start of the season.
Kuo, who was sidelined with left shoulder inflammation in spring training, has been shaky in his return. The left-hander has allowed four runs in 2 1-3 innings in two relief appearances.
Kuo is 0-2 with a 7.88 ERA in four games - two starts - lifetime against the Pirates. He’s taking the place in the rotation of Brett Tomko, who has been sent to the bullpen.
Pittsburgh (23-31) has lost three straight, and nine of its last 13 games. The Pirates’ biggest problems have come at home, as they have lost five of their last six at PNC Park, and own the third-worst home record in the majors (10-17).
Pittsburgh went 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position on Friday, and is just 3-for-26 (.115) in such situations during its losing skid.
“We got men on base,” Pirates manager Jim Tracy told the team’s official Web site. “We had a chance to get ourselves a couple of more runs and it didn’t happen.”
Jason Bay went 2-for-4 with a homer and a double on Friday, and has been one of the few bright spots in Pittsburgh’s batting order lately. Bay is batting .516 (16-for-31) with four home runs, five doubles and 12 RBIs during his eight-game hitting streak.
Ian Snell (4-4, 3.14) tries to avoid losing his third straight start for the first time in his career when he takes the mound on Saturday.
Snell has not pitched badly in his last two starts, but has only received two runs of support in those games. He gave up three runs, five hits and struck out six in seven innings of a 4-0 loss to Cincinnati on Monday.
Snell went 2-3 with a 4.54 ERA in six May starts, after a fantastic opening month when he went 2-1 with a 1.59 ERA in five starts.
The right-hander faced the Dodgers during his stellar April, allowing two runs in seven innings of a 7-3, 10-inning loss at Dodger Stadium on April 21. He is 1-1 with a 6.12 ERA in five career starts against Los Angeles.