Pirates-Brewers Preview

The Associated Press

The Pittsburgh Pirates are tied for the second-best record in the NL, but Andrew McCutchen thinks they can be even better.

McCutchen looks to continue his hot hitting and help the Pirates post a rare win in Milwaukee on Friday night in the opener of this three-game series.

Pittsburgh (29-18) is a season-best 11 games over .500 and is tied with Cincinnati for second in the Central, 1 1/2 games back of St. Louis.

The Pirates have won 11 of 13 with their pitchers posting a 2.14 ERA while the offense has struggled to a .248 average in those games. They won three of four at home against Milwaukee (18-27) from May 13-16 despite batting .230.

"We're playing good baseball and I don't think we've reached our ceiling yet," McCutchen said. "The pitching has been good all year but the hitting has kind of been up and down. The bats are eventually going to come around and we should be even better when that happens."

McCutchen's club has certainly left itself plenty of room for improvement when it comes to playing at Miller Park. The Pirates have lost 46 of 54 in Milwaukee since the 2007 season, ending a six-game skid there with a 6-4 victory May 1.

The star center fielder, though, is hitting .435 with five homers and 13 RBIs in his past 11 games at Miller Park.

McCutchen is 12 for 26 (.462) with five doubles, one homer, four RBIs and seven runs over his last six contests overall. He had three hits, two RBIs and a pair of stolen bases in Thursday's 4-2 win over the Chicago Cubs.

McCutchen is 6 for 15 with two homers off Marco Estrada, the Brewers' scheduled starter.

He'll be opposed by A.J. Burnett (3-4, 2.57 ERA), who seeks his first win in four starts.

The right-hander has a 2.57 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 21 innings in his last three outings, but has lost both decisions while receiving four total runs of support.

That's been the theme of his last four starts versus the Brewers, going 0-3 with a 3.71 ERA while being backed by three runs.

He allowed three earned runs in seven innings of a 5-1 home loss to Milwaukee on May 13, when he started opposite Estrada.

The bullpen kept Burnett from a victory five days later. He limited Houston to one run in seven innings before the relievers gave up three runs in a 4-2, 11-inning loss.

Poor starting pitching continues to plague the Brewers, who are 4-16 this month due mainly to a rotation that has compiled a 6.77 ERA.

"It's definitely a concern. It's always a concern," manager Ron Roenicke told the team's official website. "Starting pitching, if you look at most teams, that's how you win. I don't want to say that the reason where we are is just the starting pitching, because it's not. Offensively we've had some dry spells, and when we've pitched well, we haven't hit the ball at all.

"So it's not just that. But you win with starting pitching."

The starters were again the problem as the Brewers dropped two of three to the Dodgers, yielding 11 runs in 11 innings after falling 9-2 Wednesday.

Estrada (3-2, 5.44) is 1-1 with a 9.31 ERA in four home starts, including a 12-8 win over Pittsburgh on April 30. The right-hander didn't get a decision after giving up five runs and three homers in five innings.

Estrada turned in his best performance of the season May 13, yielding one run and three hits in seven innings.

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