It seemed logical that the previously red-hot Colorado Rockies could walk into PNC Park and do what they did to the Pittsburgh Pirates less than two weeks earlier - sweep them on their way back toward contention in the NL West.
Instead, it’s the Pirates who are on the verge of a sweep.
Pittsburgh will try on Wednesday to cap its first three game home sweep of the Rockies, who are hoping to avoid going winless in a road series for the seventh time this season.
The Pirates (50-57) went into the All-Star break six games below .500, but were optimistic they could take advantage of 14 consecutive games against sub-.500 opponents to open the second half. Pittsburgh, however, kicked off its schedule in Coors Field and lost four straight to the Rockies (48-60).
The Pirates dealt outfielder Xavier Nady and setup man Damaso Marte last week, and with the worst pitching staff in baseball - combined with injuries to starting infielders Adam LaRoche and Freddy Sanchez - it appeared the team was headed for its 16th straight losing season.
Sanchez was hitting .441 over his last nine games and LaRoche .386 in his last 12, but Pittsburgh’s offense hasn’t missed its two hottest hitters this series. The Pirates used three hits from Ryan Doumit to help beat Colorado 8-4 on Monday, then got three hits and three RBIs from Luis Rivas - starting in place of Sanchez - in a 6-4 win on Tuesday.
“When Luis is called upon to start, he has had some big games,” manager John Russell said. “He did a great job tonight.”
Pittsburgh has scored the third-most runs in the NL, and after a poor start, LaRoche has played a major role in the offense. He was hitting .390 (30-for-77) with seven homers and 18 RBIs in July before going on the disabled list on Tuesday with a muscle strain in his lower back.
“Unfortunately, we lose him now because he’s swinging the bat awfully well,” Russell told the team’s official Web site.
The Pirates have swept a three-game set from Colorado once, at Coors Field in 1999, but have never done so at home. They’ll try to accomplish that feat on Wednesday with a struggling Zach Duke on the mound.
Duke (4-8, 5.04 ERA) hasn’t won since June 9, and has been awful in his last four starts, going 0-3 with an 11.17 ERA. He gave up nine runs over five innings in an 11-3 loss at Colorado on July 20, though he’s 2-0 with a 2.77 ERA against the Rockies in two starts in Pittsburgh.
Colorado will send All-Star Aaron Cook (13-6, 3.46) to the hill as it tries to avoid its seventh sweep in a road series of three games or more. The Rockies’ 17-38 record away from home is the worst in the majors.
Cook had a rough outing in a 10-5 loss to Florida on July 6, giving up seven runs on 11 hits in 7 1-3 innings, but he’s been sharp since then. He’s 2-0 with a 2.14 ERA in his last three starts, including a win over Duke and the Pirates on July 20, when he went seven innings and gave up three runs.
Cook gave up just a run over eight innings in a 7-2 win at Cincinnati on Friday.
“That was typical Aaron Cook,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He pounded the strike zone.”
The Rockies hope Matt Holliday can rebound from his first hitless game since July 19. Holliday had hit safely in his previous eight games, going 16-for-33 (.485) with nine RBIs, before he went 0-for-4 Tuesday.
Holliday has 62 RBIs this season, but only 16 of those have come away from Coors Field.
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