If the Pittsburgh Pirates are to avoid being swept by the Milwaukee Brewers, they must finally find a way to get the best of Yovani Gallardo at Miller Park.
Looking to win a career-best seventh consecutive start, Gallardo hopes to continue his recent dominance against the Pirates and help the Brewers complete the sweep with a sixth straight home victory Sunday.
Pittsburgh (70-62) is 1 1/2 games out of the second NL wild-card spot, but opened September on a sour note after going 11-17 in August. Following a 9-3 series-opening loss at Milwaukee on Friday, the Pirates fell 3-2 on Corey Hart's homer to lead off the ninth Saturday. Pedro Alvarez his 27th home run, but Pittsburgh managed five other hits while dropping its third straight at Miller Park.
"We have plenty of opportunities,'' Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Unfortunately, we've had some games like that this season.''
Bouncing back won't be easy against Gallardo (14-8, 3.52 ERA), who is 6-0 with a 1.90 ERA and 44 strikeouts since losing to Washington on July 26. Gallardo allowed one run, three hits and fanned nine in seven innings of a 4-1 win at Chicago on Tuesday.
"I've been able to command my curveball. That makes a huge difference,'' said Gallardo, who also won six consecutive starts from May 7-June 4, 2011.
The right-hander has looked even more dominant while giving up three runs on two homers over 30 innings to win his last five starts against the Pirates. Gallardo gave up a home run to Andrew McCutchen and three other hits while fanning a season-high 14 in seven innings of a 4-1 victory July 15. He is 5-0 with a 1.88 ERA in seven home starts against Pittsburgh.
Though Milwaukee (64-68) is fourth in the NL Central and 7 1/2 games out of the final wild-card spot, it's averaged 6.3 runs while winning 10 of 12 overall. The Brewers have also won 13 of 15 at home.
"A lot of people counted us out a long time ago,'' said Hart, who has homered in each of the first two games of the set and is batting .414 (12 for 29) with three home runs and 11 RBIs in his last eight at Miller Park. "We think we have a pretty good club and we're making a nice little run."
Hart is 5 for 11 (.455) against scheduled Pittsburgh starter James McDonald (12-6, 3.57), who is 1-2 with a 6.86 ERA while making all four of his career starts against the Brewers in Milwaukee. He's 1-0 with a 4.22 ERA in two this season.
McDonald did not allow a run for the second time in three starts Tuesday, when he scattered two hits and struck out six in seven innings of a 9-0 victory over St. Louis.
"I got ahead of guys. But if the first pitch wasn't a strike, I fired the next one in there," McDonald told the Pirates' official website. "I'll try to carry that into the next start."
Alvarez is 14 for 26 (.538) with four homers and eight RBIs in his last seven games, but 0 for 8 with five strikeouts versus Gallardo.