After sweeping what had been the majors’ hottest team, LaRoche and the Pirates open a three-game series with the San Diego Padres in a matchup of two of the NL’s most surprising clubs.
Pittsburgh (9-6) is off to its best start since 2002, when it won 12 of its first 17 games before finishing 72-89. The Pirates were 7-8 last year, 6-9 in 2007 and 4-11 in ’05 and ’06.
A three-game sweep of Florida over the weekend is Pittsburgh’s best stretch so far, as they outscored the Marlins 18-6. Florida entered the series with an 11-1 record and a seven-game winning streak.
“I think that proves we’re a pretty good team and it’s not just a fluke,” LaRoche said.
LaRoche hasn’t been able to help the Pirates avoid poor Aprils, as he came into this season with a .179 career average in that month.
The only NL batters since 1900 with lower career averages in April were Dal Maxvill (.174) and Clete Boyer (.175).
LaRoche, though, has started ’09 with a .304 average, raising it from .255 by going 4-for-5 with three doubles in Pittsburgh’s 7-4 win over Florida on Wednesday.
“That’s behind me now,” LaRoche said of his early troubles in past seasons. “If I could answer that, I would have faced it four years ago. I have no idea what it is, but I’m not complaining.”
LaRoche, a native of Orange County, Calif., is batting .328 with four home runs, eight doubles and 12 RBIs in 16 games at San Diego.
The Padres (9-6) are also off to an unanticipated strong start. San Diego, though, lost the last three games of a 4-4 road trip that lasted 10 days.
The Padres fell 1-0 to San Francisco on Wednesday, with Bengie Molina doubling in a run as a pinch-hitter with two outs in the 10th inning.
“We played three good teams and .500 isn’t bad,” San Diego starting pitcher Chris Young said. “We’ll take it, but we could have easily won a couple more of those games. So it was decent but not satisfying.”
Kevin Correia (0-1, 4.09 ERA) will take the mound for the Padres in the opener of this series. In his last outing, the right-hander gave up two runs in five innings but San Diego lost 7-2 to New York on April 15.
Correia is 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA in one start and three relief appearances versus the Pirates.
Pittsburgh will counter with Ian Snell (1-2, 4.24), who won his last start Saturday as he surrendered four hits in seven innings of a 10-0 victory over Atlanta.
The right-hander is 1-0 with a 1.69 ERA in two starts and two relief appearances against San Diego.
The Pirates didn’t get their usual strong starting pitching in their last game as Paul Maholm gave up four runs in six innings. Pittsburgh’s starters have a 3.00 ERA, allowing two runs or fewer in four of their six road outings.
San Diego lost two of three at home against Pittsburgh last season but won the season series 4-3.