Pirates-Cubs Preview

The Associated Press

One of the most taxed bullpens in baseball finally got a rest Friday.

Following Francisco Liriano's complete game, the Pittsburgh Pirates hope to win their 12th game in 14 tries as they face the Chicago Cubs on Saturday afternoon.

Despite a major league-best 3.14 ERA, the Pirates (53-32) became the 22nd team in baseball to record a complete game with Liriano's four-hitter in a 6-2 victory. With Pittsburgh's starters averaging just over 5 1-3 innings per outing, the relievers have been left to pitch 305 innings, the second-highest total in baseball.

"These guys, the game has been over in the fifth inning when they have the lead," Cubs manager Dale Sveum told the team's official website. "Their bullpen has been that dominant. They've won every single game they've been leading. When you get those kind of pieces, it helps."

Sveum's compliment aside, Pittsburgh's bullpen finally displayed some weakness toward the tail end of its recent series against Philadelphia, as it posted a 6.43 ERA and a .345 batting average against over its last two games.

After watching Philadelphia snap its nine-game winning streak Tuesday, Pittsburgh has responded with two wins in three games, paced by an offense that has collected 35 hits.

Starling Marte has led the way, batting .373 during a 10-game hitting streak with nine of his 19 hits going for extra bases. He improved to 8 for 21 (.381) with five stolen bases in his last five games against the Cubs after going 3 for 6 with two steals Friday.

"I see a team that's fighting for every inch and earning every win," Saturday's scheduled starter Charlie Morton told the Pirates' official site. "I wouldn't classify it as luck. I wouldn't. Because that would be selling them short about what they've done so far."

Pittsburgh's bullpen may have needed the rest with Morton (1-1, 2.50 ERA) set to take the hill. The last time he pitched, a two hour and 20-minute rain delay forced him off the mound after two innings. While the right-hander could hardly be blamed for that abbreviated start, he has yet to make it through the sixth inning in four outings this season.

Since allowing a career-worst 10 runs to the Cubs (36-48) on Aug. 14, 2009, Morton is 2-1 with a 1.71 ERA in four starts against them. This will be his first appearance versus Chicago since Sept. 4, 2011.

He'll be facing a struggling Cubs offense that has scored five runs in the past three games and has six hits in the past two. Alfonso Soriano went hitless in four at-bats with three strikeouts Friday, and is 3 for his last 16. Anthony Rizzo is 2 for his last 20 and Darwin Barney is mired in a 3-for-25 skid.

This has been a dismal first season in Chicago for Edwin Jackson (4-10, 5.75), but he does have a chance to win consecutive starts. He allowed three runs over six-plus innings in a 7-6 victory at Seattle on Sunday after posting a 9.00 ERA in his previous two outings.

Jackson is 1-5 with a 6.69 ERA at Wrigley Field this year, but that lone win came against Pittsburgh in his last game there. He threw seven innings of one-run ball and struck out eight en route to a 4-1 victory June 9.

The right-hander has won all four of his home starts against the Pirates while compiling a 2.49 ERA.

Jackson will want to be careful with Andrew McCutchen, who is 7 for 17 (.412) with two homers and two doubles in their matchups. The Pirates' star is batting .423 (11 for 26) during a seven-game hit streak overall.

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