Although they're aiming to reach the postseason for a second straight season, the Pittsburgh Pirates will watch those hopes slowly disintegrate unless they can snap another lengthy losing streak.
That could be a difficult challenge against the Chicago Cubs, who are an NL Central-best 22-15 since July 28.
The fading Pirates look to keep pace in the playoff race by avoiding their fifth straight defeat, while the Cubs seek their longest home winning streak in more than six years in Friday's series opener.
Pittsburgh (71-68) continued to struggle offensively in a three-game sweep by first-place St. Louis earlier this week. The club managed four hits Wednesday before Peter Bourjos delivered a walk-off single in the Cardinals' 1-0 victory.
The Pirates have hit .176 with runners in scoring position while recording three or fewer runs seven times in 10 games.
"We've just got find a way to score a run every now and then," manager Clint Hurdle told MLB's official website.
Since closing to within two games of the division lead with a four-game winning streak in late August, Hurdle's club has fallen further behind by matching its second-worst skid of the season.
The Pirates, who also dropped a season-high seven straight Aug. 13-19, are two games back of San Francisco with Milwaukee and Atlanta also ahead of them in the race for the two wild-card spots.
"We've gotta keep battling, keep going, keep moving," center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. "We're coming into a hot team like the Cubs, who are swinging really well."
The Pirates have won nine of 13 in this season series, though the Cubs (64-76) barely resemble the club Pittsburgh last faced in late June following several trades and an influx of young talent from the minors.
Rookie Jorge Soler has given Chicago a lift by hitting .462 with three homers and 10 RBIs since being promoted. He's the second player in Cubs history to have that many RBIs in his first seven games.
''There's a lot of energy,'' rookie pitcher Kyle Hendricks said following Wednesday's 6-2 win over Milwaukee. ''When I came up, there wasn't a lack of energy, but it's almost as if we're expecting to win more, I guess."
Starlin Castro had a .406 average during a nine-game hitting streak before going down with an ankle injury. Castro and fellow All-Star Anthony Rizzo (strained back) are expected to miss the rest of the season.
Following sweeps of Baltimore in late August and Milwaukee earlier this week, the Cubs are going for their first seven-game home win streak since a 14-game run May 18-June 22, 2008.
Rookie Tsuyoshi Wada (4-2, 2.79 ERA) will try to put together another strong start at home after his four-game winning streak was snapped in Saturday's 13-2 loss at St. Louis.
The left-hander allowed four runs - three earned - over six innings. Wada, though, has posted a 2.32 ERA in his last seven outings and is 4-0 with a 1.74 mark in his last five starts at Wrigley.
The Pirates' Vance Worley (6-4, 3.01) ended a three-start slide with Saturday's 3-2 home win over Cincinnati, giving up one earned run and three hits over 6 1-3 innings. The right-hander had posted a 6.11 ERA during the losing streak.
Worley is 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA in three career outings against Chicago. He surrendered three runs over 6 2-3 innings of a 5-3 road win June 21 in his only meeting this season.
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