Pittsburgh (62-75) at Chicago (59-78)

Partly Cloudy Currently: Chicago, IL
Temp: 81° F
  • Game info: 2:20 pm EDT Fri Sep 2, 2011
  • TV: ROOT, WGN
Preview | Box Score | Recap

If the Pittsburgh Pirates’ chances of NL Central contention hadn’t already vanished when they faced the Chicago Cubs one month ago, they certainly did by the time that four-game set was finished.

With similar results at Wrigley Field, they won’t even be ahead of the Cubs.

The lifeless Pirates try to avoid a sixth straight loss in Friday’s opener of a three-game set against fifth-place Chicago, which would pull even with Pittsburgh with a second sweep in a month.

The Pirates (62-75) had lost eight of 11 and fallen to 54-52 - 4 1/2 games behind division-leading Milwaukee - when they began hosting the Cubs on Aug. 1, entering what looked like a prime opportunity to get back on track. Instead, Chicago left with a four-game sweep that sent Pittsburgh back under .500.

The nosedive has only worsened since. The Pirates have lost a major league-high 23 games since the beginning of August, with a 6-4 defeat in Thursday’s makeup game against the Dodgers their fifth in a row.

Pittsburgh scored only one run in eight innings against Dana Eveland(notes) - making his first major league start in more than 14 months - and is hitting .192 during its latest losing streak.

“We need to take a better approach,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We couldn’t get the big hit when we needed it. We’ve got to learn how to fight. Guys are cutting us up and we’re making it too easy for them.”

The Cubs (59-78) have lost eight of 11, but they finished August at 16-13 and can pull even with the Pirates in fourth place with a three-game sweep. Chicago took the first two games in San Francisco in its final series of the month, but was held to two singles while dropping Wednesday’s finale 4-0.

Despite an uncertain future after the 25 remaining games, Cubs manager Mike Quade is looking forward to September.

“There’s still a pretty bright future here with a lot of guys on this field, and I believe that,” Quade told the team’s official website. “That future can get brighter in the month of September.

“We played well against some pretty good clubs down the stretch last year, and here we are again.”

Ryan Dempster(notes) (10-10, 4.76 ERA) will try to be the latest pitcher to stymie the Pirates’ offense, but he has a 7.84 ERA in his last four games against Pittsburgh and second baseman Neil Walker(notes) is 7 for 12 with a homer in their career matchups.

The right-hander was solid in late July and most of August after a disastrous first half, delivering six consecutive quality starts before taking the mound Saturday in Milwaukee. The streak ended there, as Dempster gave up five runs and seven hits - two homers - over four innings in a 6-4 loss.

The Pirates counter with Brian Burres(notes), who makes his first appearance in the majors since losing the finale of Pittsburgh’s 105-loss season Oct. 3.

Burres was 5-9 with a 4.66 ERA in 25 games with Triple-A Indianapolis in 2011.

“I’m fresh and ready to go. Things have been going pretty well lately,” said Burres, whose 6.35 August ERA suggests otherwise. “I feel pretty good about where I’m at.”

The left-hander is 1-0 despite a 6.60 ERA in four career appearances - two starts - versus the Cubs.

Chicago shortstop Starlin Castro(notes), who leads the NL with 173 hits, has reached in three of four plate appearances versus Burres. Castro is 14 for 28 with a 1.196 OPS in his last six games versus Pittsburgh.

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Starting Pitchers

B. Burres Col vs. R. Dempster ChC
1-0 Record 10-14
3.86 ERA 4.80
10 K 191
4 BB 82
1.14 WHIP 1.45

Scoreboard

Friday, Sep 2