Pittsburgh, which recorded the majority of its 11 May wins at the Cubs’ expense, looks to claim a fourth straight series victory over Chicago when the NL Central rivals continue their three-game set at PNC Park on Tuesday night.
During the Pirates’ string of 17 consecutive losing seasons, they’ve posted a sub-.500 record in 75 of 103 months. Taking that into account, finishing May at 11-18 while being outscored by 50 runs was hardly out of the ordinary.
Pittsburgh’s dominance of the Cubs (24-28), however, was certainly uncommon. Chicago had won 10 of the past 11 series between these clubs before the Pirates (21-31) took two of three games in late September. Pittsburgh has carried that success into 2010, winning five of its first six against the Cubs in May before opening this set with a 2-1 victory in a Memorial Day matinee.
The Pirates have outscored Chicago 37-19 in the season series.
“We have had some success against Chicago,” manager John Russell told the Pirates’ official website, “so hopefully we’ll build off that.”
Pittsburgh isn’t the only opponent stifling the Cubs these days. Monday’s loss marked the fourth time in five games Chicago scored just one run, and manager Lou Piniella’s club hasn’t scored more than five in a game since May 18 - a 12-game stretch during which it’s hit .220.
“I don’t know, I really don’t know,” Piniella said. “I’ll be honest, I wish I had some answers. You would think that sooner or later this offense would wake up and start scoring a sufficient number of runs to win baseball games.”
The Cubs will try to break out of their slump against Jeff Karstens(notes) (1-1, 4.78 ERA), who makes his first start since May 8 as he fills in for the injured and ineffective Charlie Morton(notes). The right-hander has a 5.65 ERA in six long-relief appearances since leaving the rotation, and had a 4.08 ERA in three starts.
Karstens is 2-1 with a 4.50 ERA in three starts versus the Cubs, but two of Chicago’s slumping hitters have had some success against him. Both Alfonso Soriano(notes) (3 for his last 22) and Aramis Ramirez(notes) (NL-worst .166 average) are 3 for 5 off Karstens, and Ramirez has taken him deep.
The left-hander’s latest start was statistically his best as he allowed three hits over seven scoreless innings, but he still walked away without a decision Thursday in a 1-0 win over Los Angeles.
Lilly faced the Pirates twice last month, going 0-1 with a 4.85 ERA. Pittsburgh is 7-2 in its last nine games against left-handed starters.