The Pittsburgh Pirates managed to stop their latest skid at four, but if they want to have any shot at reaching the postseason for the first time in 20 years, they need to take advantage of their next four games as well.
The Pirates look to avoid becoming the first NL team this season to lose a home series to the Astros on Wednesday night as they continue a key stretch against baseball’s bottom-feeders.
Houston and the Chicago Cubs are the NL’s only clubs with worse records since Aug. 1 than Pittsburgh, which headed into Tuesday at 11-20 in that span after Monday’s 5-1 loss to the Astros.
The Pirates (71-64) recovered for a 6-2 win Tuesday behind four hits apiece from infielder Brock Holt and center fielder Andrew McCutchen, allowing them to stay within 2 1/2 game of St. Louis for the NL’s second wild-card spot.
McCutchen, who had been leading the major leagues in batting average until recently and hit just .252 in August, boosted his overall average back to .347 - a point ahead of suspended Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera.
“That will take care of itself,” McCutchen said of a possible batting title. “I just need to do what I do here. That’s coming out and playing hard. That’s all I can worry about.”
Pittsburgh hasn’t won more than two in a row since a four-game streak against the Cubs and Astros (42-94) from July 25-28, but it could desperately use a hot streak the remainder of this week. Following the finale with Houston, Chicago comes to town for three games.
Including Wednesday’s contest, 11 of the Pirates’ final 27 games are against the majors’ two worst teams.
Houston, 14-54 away from home, gets another chance to win its second road series of 2012. It beat the Chicago White Sox twice from June 8-10.
Taking another game in Pittsburgh seems highly unlikely if the Astros can’t contain McCutchen. The MVP candidate is 19 for 38 with four homers and 12 RBIs in his last 10 home games in this series, and half of his major league-leading six four-hit games have come against Houston at PNC in 2012.
McCutchen singled in his only career at-bat against Fernando Abad (0-2, 4.83 ERA), who hasn’t looked good in his first two major league starts after spending parts of three seasons in the bullpen. The left-hander allowed nine baserunners but just one run over four innings in a 3-1 loss to the Mets on Aug. 25, then was rocked for six runs and nine hits over 4 1-3 in a 9-3 loss to Cincinnati on Friday.
“We tried to get him stretched out, but you know it’s about executing pitches,” Astros interim manager Tony DeFrancesco said of Abad, who’s 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA in eight appearances against Pittsburgh.
His last two appearances have been in long relief, most recently pitching four scoreless innings at Milwaukee on Friday.
The right-hander held the Astros to three runs over six innings in a 6-4 home win July 4, but surrendered four in two innings of relief at Minute Maid Park on July 29.