Cubs-Pirates Preview

The Associated Press

While blowing a late lead to lose to the lowly Chicago Cubs is bad enough, making matters even worse for the Pittsburgh Pirates is they dropped out of first place in the NL Central.

Gerrit Cole tries to build on the best start of his young career and help the Pirates bounce back against the Cubs on Saturday night.

PNC Park was rocking Friday after Pedro Alvarez, Russell Martin and Garrett Jones hit back-to-back-to-back home runs to tie the score at three in the fourth. Two innings later, the Pirates (85-62) took the lead when Andrew McCutchen hustled home from second base on a poor exchange between Anthony Rizzo and reliever Brooks Raley at first.

Pittsburgh's bullpen is usually very reliable, but All-Star Jason Grilli served up a go-ahead, two-run homer to Rizzo in the seventh and the Cubs won 5-4. It was Grilli's fourth appearance since a stint on the disabled list with a strained right forearm.

"We've got to keep getting him out there on somewhat of a consistent basis if we want to get him better,'' manger Clint Hurdle said. "He's not going to get better not pitching.''

The Pirates' win streak was snapped at four as the club lost for just the fourth time in 65 contests when leading after six innings. They also fell a game back of St. Louis in the division.

Cole (7-7, 3.48 ERA) initiated Pittsburgh's latest win streak by outdueling Texas' Yu Darvish on Monday, tossing seven innings of three-hit ball in a 1-0 win. The rookie right-hander struck out a season-high nine and walked two in his first scoreless outing in 16 major league starts.

"If he pitches like that every start, he'll be the National League Cy Young winner," Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus told the Pirates' official website.

Cole, obviously, isn't quite as overpowering every time out, but he has been sharp lately, posting a 2.51 ERA with 28 strikeouts to six walks over his last five starts.

This will be his first appearance against the last-place Cubs (63-84).

Chicago turns to Scott Baker (0-0, 0.00), who looks to build on encouraging performance in his first start since Aug. 8, 2011.

In his return from Tommy John surgery, Baker allowed two hits and a walk in five scoreless innings in Sunday's 3-1 loss to Milwaukee. He was lifted after throwing 55 pitches, 39 for strikes.

"It felt very good,'' he said. "There were some emotions there.''

Cubs manager Dale Sveum didn't immediately say after the game if Baker would get another shot, but has since decided to go with a six-man rotation, giving Baker two more starts.

"I feel like that's the only way it's going to get better,'' the right-hander said. "I understand there are guys here fighting for jobs next year, and as much as they want to pitch, I'm sure the staff and front office want to get looks at everybody.''

This will the first outing against the Pirates for Baker, who spent his first seven seasons in the majors with Minnesota.

He'll have the difficult task of trying to curb the production of McCutchen, one of the leading candidates for NL MVP. McCutchen has hit safely in all 11 games this month, batting .462 with four doubles and nine runs. He is also 11 for 25 (.440) in his last seven games against the Cubs.

Chicago's Brian Bogusevic went 3 for 4 with a two-run homer Friday, and is batting .357 with three home runs in nine September games.

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