Two of the hottest teams in the majors square off again when the Cubs and Pirates continue their three-game series at PNC Park on Saturday.
Pittsburgh (39-47) had the edge in the series opener on Friday, beating Chicago 8-4 for its fourth straight win. The Pirates are one shy of their longest winning streak of the season, set April 22-27.
“We’re getting a lot of offense throughout the lineup, good at-bats up and down,” said manager Jim Tracy, whose team has outscored opponents 25-12 during its current streak.
Xavier Nady went 3-for-4 with a home run and three runs scored on Friday, and is 9-for-15 in the last three games. After batting .240 with four homers and 15 RBIs in his first 30 games of 2007, the right fielder is hitting .323 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs in his last 44 contests.
“It’s a lot more fun when you win,” Nady said. “It’s nice to see the guys swinging the bats better. It’s encouraging.”
The Pirates are 8-3 since June 26 to move into fourth place in the Central - 10 games behind Milwaukee for the lead.
The majors’ best record since June 22, meanwhile, belongs to the Cubs (43-42), who are 11-3 in their last 14 games to move above .500 and within 5 1-2 games of Milwaukee.
Chicago, though, has been outscored 16-8 in losing two of its last three.
Ted Lilly (7-4, 3.84 ERA) will start for the Cubs on Saturday in search of his first career win against the Pirates. The left-hander has not gotten a decision while posting a 5.52 ERA in four career games - two starts - against Pittsburgh.
He held the Pirates to two runs and seven hits in seven innings on May 8, but Pittsburgh outlasted Chicago to take a 4-3 win in 15 innings.
Lilly has won back-to-back starts for the second time this season, and is coming off one of his strongest starts of the year after holding Washington to one run and three hits in seven innings of Chicago’s 7-2 win on Monday. He had a no-hitter through 4 1-3 innings.
“It’s so important early in the game to set the tempo and set the pace of the game,” Lilly told the Cubs’ official Web site. “That was something (pitching coach) Larry (Rothschild) kept saying to me. I understand what he’s saying - it’s a matter of being aggressive with my fastball and throwing that pitch for strikes to start with and working off of that.”
Pittsburgh’s John Van Benschoten (0-2, 4.35) will again try for his first major league win since Sept. 10, 2004. The right-hander didn’t pitch in the majors in 2005 or 2006, while recovering from shoulder surgery, and is winless in four starts since he was called up from Triple-A Indianapolis on June 15.
He allowed three runs in a season-high six innings on Monday, failing to factor in the decision of the Pirates’ 10-3 loss to Milwaukee.
Van Benschoten has never faced the Cubs.