Pirates-Cubs Preview

The Associated Press

A.J. Burnett and Jeff Samardzija have been on the wrong end of plenty of pitchers' duels this season.

The two starters will square off Saturday at Wrigley Field looking to continue the struggles of the opposing offenses.

The Cubs (24-34) and Pirates (36-25) traded zeros for most of Pittsburgh's 2-0 victory Friday, the Pirates' league-leading 10th shutout of the season.

"It just speaks to the job the pitchers are doing here," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "We've been able to get a little better at it every year, and this year obviously we've taken it to another level at this point in the season.''

It was the fourth loss in five games for the Cubs, who were held to five singles. During that stretch, they have batted .215 with three home runs after posting a .283 average with 11 homers during their season-high five-game winning streak.

Meanwhile, the Pirates have scored just 13 runs while losing five of seven. They have a .169 batting average in that stretch, and rank last in the majors with a .182 average in June.

Burnett (3-6, 3.22 ERA) is used to not getting much support. His 2.67 run-support average is the fourth-worst in the league. Pittsburgh has scored seven runs over his last six starts, and as a result, Burnett hasn't won since May 3. The Pirates have lost five of his last six outings.

The right-hander didn't give Pittsburgh much of a chance in his last start, however, surrendering six runs in five innings of a 7-2 loss to Atlanta on Monday. He started strong, yielding a single and two walks through three scoreless innings, but a leadoff walk and a two-run homer by Brian McCann in the fourth, the first of three two-run shots off Burnett, sullied his night.

"I was making pitches early but that last inning I wasn't able to make pitches,'' Burnett said. "I got behind hitters. That's a good-swinging team and you can't get behind them. Especially throwing cookies in there when you do get behind them."

He is 4-0 with a 3.09 ERA in five starts at Wrigley, but will want to be careful with Starlin Castro, who is 8 for 16 lifetime in their matchups.

Burnett will be opposed by another hard-luck pitcher in Samardzija (3-6, 2.96). The Cubs righty turned in another strong outing against Arizona on June 1, fanning 11 while allowing three runs in 6 1-3 innings before leaving without a decision in a 12-4 loss.

Samardzija has struck out at least seven in four consecutive games, holding opposing hitters to a .162 average during that stretch. He is 2-1 with a 1.78 ERA in his last four appearances after losing five straight decisions.

Samardzija, who will be pitching on six days' rest, has a 0.60 ERA and limited opponents to a .096 average when working on six-plus days of rest.

He has been outstanding in four career starts against the Pirates, going 3-1 with a 0.84 ERA. His lifetime 0.98 ERA versus Pittsburgh is his best against any team.

Andrew McCutchen is one of the few Pirates to experience any success against Samardzija, going 6 for 16 (.375) with three doubles.

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