Their collective issues may be costing them a trip to the postseason, and the Milwaukee Brewers are surely thrilled to take advantage of that.
In replacing McDonald, the rapidly fading Pirates are scheduled to give rookie Kyle McPherson his first career start in an effort to avoid a six-game slide to the Brewers on Wednesday night.
McDonald was pulled from the rotation after going 2-5 with a 6.66 ERA in 10 starts after starting the year 10-3 with a 2.93 ERA.
Pittsburgh (74-73) has seen enough after he went 0-2 with 10.50 ERA in his last three outings, including Friday’s 7-4 defeat at Chicago. McDonald surrendered four runs with four walks in 3 2-3 innings.
“As the games count down, we’ve got to look to give ourselves the best shot to win a game,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Sometimes the realization something’s been taken away, maybe that can help him … a different kind of route, as far as focus, as far as attention.”
The same could be said for the rest of the Pirates, who have dropped 13 of 17 after falling 6-0 to Milwaukee in the opener of this important three-game set between teams vying for a wild-card spot.
Pittsburgh is one-half game behind Philadelphia and one game behind the Brewers (75-72), who are 2 1/2 back of St. Louis for the NL’s second wild-card position. Los Angeles trails the Cardinals by 1 1/2 games.
In an effort to spark the Pirates, Hurdle is turning to McPherson (0-0, 1.54 ERA), who has made seven relief appearances - none lasting longer than two innings.
The right-hander went 3-6 with a 3.22 ERA in 12 starts in the minors this year.
“There are many people who speak highly of him throughout our organization,” Hurdle said. “We’d like to see what he can do.”
Hurdle probably didn’t like what he saw from McPherson against Milwaukee on Aug. 31, when he allowed one run with three strikeouts, two walks and two hit batters in 1 2-3 innings.
The Brewers have won 21 of 27 while averaging 6.0 runs and batting .292.
That doesn’t seem likely to change much since they’re hitting .322 with 10 homers and 20 stolen bases during a five-game winning streak against the Pirates.
Milwaukee swiped seven bases in the opener of this series, one shy of the franchise record set at Toronto on Aug. 29, 1992. That season the Brewers had a team-record 256 steals, and their 142 this year are the most since.
“I think people have always perceived us as a team that relies on the home run,” said Ryan Braun, who needs three more steals for back-to-back seasons with at least 30 homers and 30 steals. “Well, we really don’t. We’re pretty good at running the bases.”
Braun is hitting .429 with two homers and four RBIs in five games, and his three stolen bases Tuesday were a career high.
Marco Estrada (3-6, 3.77 ERA) is expected to get the ball, and he’s 3-1 with a 1.52 ERA with 38 strikeouts in 29 2-3 innings over his past five starts.
The right-hander’s recent success includes allowing one run while striking out 10 in seven innings while not getting a decision in a 3-2 home win over Pittsburgh on Sept. 1.
Overall, he’s 2-0 with a 1.76 ERA in seven games - four starts - against the Pirates.
Estrada last took the mound Sept. 11 in a 5-0 victory over Atlanta, yielding four hits and fanning six in 6 2-3 innings.
Historically, he’s struggled when being rested for six days or more between starts, going 1-4 with a 6.25 ERA in eight games.