Braves-Pirates Preview


Andrew McCutchen's return couldn't snap the Pittsburgh Pirates' skid.

Perhaps Gerrit Cole's comeback from an injury can provide them with a spark they're desperately looking for.

Pittsburgh looks to avoid its longest losing streak in three years in Wednesday night's series finale with the surging Atlanta Braves.

The Pirates (64-62) suffered an 11-3 drubbing at the hands of Atlanta on Tuesday night - their seventh in a row after a 7-3 loss in Monday's opener.

McCutchen went 0 for 4 upon being activated from the disabled list after missing 14 games with fractured rib cartilage. He left after grounding into a double play in the eighth inning with the outcome all but decided, and said he didn't experience any discomfort.

"This is definitely something I'm trying to do, get back in the rhythm of things, get back in the swing of things," the reigning NL MVP said. "That will come sooner rather than later."

Pittsburgh hasn't dropped eight straight since a 10-game slide from July 29-Aug. 7, 2011, and hasn't been swept at home in a series of at least three games since Sept. 18-20, 2012, against Milwaukee.

Atlanta is aiming for its first series sweep of at least three games in Pittsburgh since June 1-3, 2001.

The Pirates are hoping Cole (7-4, 3.78 ERA) can end the club's slide in his first start since July 4 after being sidelined with a sore right lat.

Cole, who went 3-1 with a 2.01 ERA in four rehab starts for Triple-A Indianapolis, had won three of four starts prior to landing on the DL. He capped that stretch with five scoreless innings of one-hit ball in an 8-2 victory over Philadelphia.

Besides Pittsburgh, Atlanta is the lone NL team Cole has yet to face.

The Braves (66-60) have recorded 10 homers and 33 runs during a five-game winning streak. Justin Upton was 2 for 4 Tuesday with his 24th homer - his fifth in 12 games to improve his average to .382 during a 10-game hitting streak, a span in which he has 14 RBIs.

"He gets hot and he can carry us," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He's done that a few months so it's nice to have that big bat right behind (Freddie) Freeman, who is starting to roll the pole a little bit also."

Freeman was 2 for 3 Tuesday and is hitting .457 over his last 13 games. Jason Heyward had two hits with three RBIs after going 3 for 4 with a homer on Monday.

Alex Wood (9-9, 3.07) gets the nod for Atlanta. He is 2-1 with a 1.71 ERA over his last four starts and 4-3 with a 2.73 ERA over 10 outings since rejoining the rotation on June 25. Wood has been much more effective as a starter, posting a 2.84 ERA in 17 games compared to a 4.70 mark over his 11 relief appearances.

The Braves also showed plenty of pop in his 7-2 win over Oakland on Friday, hitting four home runs as Wood limited the Athletics to two runs in six innings. His 3.37 run-support average still ranks as the lowest among the five Atlanta pitchers with at least 10 starts.

Travis Snider is 16 for 38 during a 10-game hitting streak for Pittsburgh after going 2 for 4 with a double Tuesday.