Pirates-Astros Preview

The Associated Press

With their postseason hopes slipping away, the Pittsburgh Pirates now must find a way to avoid a 20th consecutive losing season.

The reeling Pirates look to avoid a fifth straight loss Saturday night against the lowly Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.

After being swept at home by the surging Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh (74-76) was stymied by seven Houston pitchers in Friday's 7-1 loss. A playoff contender most of the season, the Pirates have dropped 29 of 40 and are 5 1/2 games out of the NL's final wild-card spot.

A loser in 12 of the last 14, Pittsburgh could have a hard time recording its first winning season since 1992, when it won the last of three straight NL East titles.

"When you don't get the results you want, it doesn't look good,'' manager Clint Hurdle said. "Sometimes the game can look heavy on you. That's when I have to make sure I am getting the effort and the attitude we need."

Garrett Jones homered in the eighth Friday for the Pirates, who have been shut out or held to one run in three of their last four contests. Pittsburgh has been outscored 25-9 during its four-game skid.

All-Star Andrew McCutchen is 4 for 19 in the last five games but his .338 season average has him in a good position to claim the NL batting title now that suspended San Francisco outfielder Melky Cabrera (.346) is no longer eligible. McCutchen holds a narrow lead over Giants catcher Buster Posey (.335).

Pittsburgh starter Kevin Correia (11-9, 4.09 ERA) is 2-1 with a 1.89 ERA since returning to the rotation after a stint in the bullpen. The right-hander allowed two hits and struck out six in seven innings of a 3-0 win at Chicago on Monday.

"You can argue this is the best game he's pitched all year," Hurdle said. "Very good command. A very good outing by Kevin.''

Correia allowed a run and four hits in six innings of a 6-3 home win Sept. 5 to improve to 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA as a starter versus Houston this season.

Jed Lowrie, Brett Wallace and Justin Maxwell are a combined 1 for 9 against Correia, but each homered Friday for Houston (49-102), which won for the fourth time in 15 games against the Pirates in 2012.

Despite owning the majors' worst record, the Astros are 9-10 in September.

"I know (the Pirates have) been struggling and they keep talking about getting to .500 and the history of Pittsburgh,'' Astros interim manager Tony DeFrancesco said. "For me, I don't feel bad for anybody right now. We're going to go out and try to compete and try to win series until the end of the season here.''

Though Houston starter Dallas Keuchel (2-7, 4.97) is 0-2 with a 6.94 ERA against the Pirates, the rookie has yielded one run and overcome six walks over 9 1-3 innings to go 1-0 in his last two starts overall.

The left-hander walked four but lasted 5 1-3 innings in a 5-0 victory over Philadelphia on Saturday for his first win since tossing a complete game against Cleveland on June 23 - 12 starts ago.

"I just try to do my job and help the team win," said Keuchel, who has a 3.17 ERA at home.

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