After a slow start to the year, Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen is starting to heat up.
Pirates fans have plenty more to be excited about with top prospect Gregory Polanco expected to debut as soon as Tuesday night against the visiting Chicago Cubs.
While McCutchen hit a combined four homers in April and May, he's already gone deep four times in eight games this month. The All-Star center fielder, hitting .375 with 10 extra-base hits and eight RBIs in June, stayed hot in Monday's series-opening 6-2 victory.
"When I get the barrel to it, good things happen,'' said McCutchen, who went 2 for 4 with a homer and three RBIs and is 7 for 16 with five extra-base hits in four home games in June. "That's basically what I'm doing."
The Pirates are hoping to get another hot bat with Polanco, who was called up from Triple-A Indianapolis after Neil Walker (emergency appendectomy) was placed on the disabled list following Monday's win. Polanco hit .347 with 29 extra-base hits - seven homers - and 49 RBIs in 62 games in the minors.
Polanco will try to make a good first impression behind Francisco Liriano (1-6, 4.54 ERA), whose run support average of 2.08 is the lowest in baseball. The left-hander, allowing an NL-worst 4.67 walks per nine innings, yielded one hit - a bunt single in the first inning - but issued a season-high six free passes in Wednesday's 3-2 loss at San Diego.
''I didn't think it was just a case of him wrestling with his delivery,'' manager Clint Hurdle said of Liriano, who surrendered three runs over five innings. "We can't put a finger on it."
While Liriano owns a 2.84 ERA on the road, he's 0-3 with a 5.97 mark over seven home starts. However, Liriano has shined in six appearances against the Cubs since the start of last year, going 3-1 with a 1.80 ERA while striking out 46 over 40 innings. He struck out a season-best 10 over six innings of four-hit ball in a 1-0, 10-inning victory over Chicago on opening day.
Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo are a combined 4 for 36 with 12 strikeouts against Liriano. Castro went 3 for 4 with a homer and two RBIs on Monday, but the Cubs (25-36) dropped to a major league-worst 10-22 on the road.
"We try to figure out what it is but we haven't figured it out yet," Castro said. "You go back and see those games we play good at home and we should be playing that way on the road but we're not."
Chicago gives the ball to Travis Wood (5-5, 5.04). The left-hander yielded two runs, four hits and a career worst-tying five walks over five-plus innings but didn't receive a decision in Thursday's 7-4 win over the New York Mets.
"Bottom line is, five walks can't happen," he told MLB's official website.
Wood also helped himself with a homer and three RBIs. His .273 average ranks third among pitchers with at least 20 at-bats, and his eight RBIs lead his position.
"I feel like we're commanded to hit in this league," Wood said, "so why not try to be the best you can at it?"
Wood has had an especially rough time on the road, going 2-4 with a major league-worst 8.04 ERA. He is 4-1 with a 1.91 ERA at PNC Park, though.
Wood, 2-2 with a 1.77 ERA in his last six starts against Pittsburgh (30-33) overall, matched a career high with nine strikeouts over six-plus innings of one-run ball in a 5-4 loss April 10.
McCutchen is 2 for 20 versus Wood, while Pedro Alvarez is 1 for 18.