Pittsburgh's quiet bats awoke in a dominant 7-1 win against Houston Tuesday, while the Astros (65-61) shut down the Pirates (63-60) in a 3-1 victory the night before. Something will have to give Wednesday, with each team attempting to gain ground in their respective wild-card races.
The Pirates came out strong Tuesday, starting the game with six straight hits, and will hope to repeat that performance.
"I mentioned to our offensive coordinator Jeff Branson that I liked the way he scripted his first 20 plays," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "I think we'll stick with that. We came and hit balls where they were pitched and took advantage of a sinkerballer who wasn't getting the ball down."
Pittsburgh has lost in each of Cole's past three starts dating back to a 5-3 win against the Atlanta Braves on Aug. 2. The Pirates' ace, who has allowed at least three earned runs in each of those three starts, had a solid outing against the Miami Marlins on Friday, but allowed two home runs that cut his night short at 6 2/3 innings pitched, his longest start since recording his first career complete game July 27.
Cole's inconsistency won't be the only issue Pittsburgh will look to overcome, however. The Pirates' floundering offense will try to find a spark and could against McHugh, who allowed seven runs, six earned, in three innings against the Baltimore Orioles when he last started Friday.
McHugh has not won since allowing two runs through six innings of a 7-2 win against the Los Angeles Angels on July 23. Since that victory, he has gone past six innings once and went three or less twice, including when he surrendered eight runs in 1 2/3 innings pitched against the Detroit Tigers on July 29.
Things could turn around for McHugh on Wednesday, though, if the Pirates offense can't build on its momentum from Tuesday.
Entering Tuesday, Pittsburgh had failed to score more than two runs in each of its past three games. The Pirates had lost four in a row since taking five of six on their West Coast road trip last week, which included a three-game sweep of the San Francisco Giants.
That changed against right-hander Joe Musgrove, when Pittsburgh peppered him for four runs in the first inning before outfielder Gregory Polanco took him deep for a solo home run in the third.
The teams seemed to trade places Tuesday. While the once-dormant Pirates exploded, the red-hot Astros cooled.
Houston had scored 35 combined runs over four consecutive wins entering the series' middle game, but couldn't solve right-hander Ivan Nova.
Astros shortstop Carlos Correa exited Tuesday's game late due to an illness, Houston manager A.J. Hinch said.
"He's been sick. Half our team has been sick," Hinch said. "We weren't really doing much against them. We have a 12:30 game tomorrow, so pretty easy decision."