Pirates-Rockies Preview

The Associated Press

The Pittsburgh Pirates' Andrew McCutchen has been the hottest hitter in baseball over the last month-plus.

The All-Star outfielder seems unlikely to cool down with a visit to hitter-friendly Coors Field up next.

McCutchen looks to continue his torrid pace as the Pirates and Colorado Rockies open a three-game set Monday night.

Batting an MLB-best .458 with 11 homers, 31 RBIs and 30 runs scored since June 10, McCutchen has played a huge role in Pittsburgh's recent success.

Despite dropping two of three at Milwaukee over the weekend, the second-place Pirates (49-39) enter this series winners of 11 of 15 and sit one game behind Cincinnati for the NL Central lead.

McCutchen provided the only offense for Pittsburgh during Sunday's 4-1 defeat, going 3 for 4 with his fifth homer in four games.

"He is as good a player as there is in the league," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, who spent the first eight years of his managerial career with Colorado. "He is playing at an elite level, all across the board. He has earned his name being in those (MVP) conversations at this point. But it is still early. We've all got work to do."

McCutchen has a chance to become the first Pirate to homer in five straight games since Jose Castillo from May 26-31, 2006. He's batting .429 with a pair of long balls during a modest five-game hitting streak in Colorado, and could be in for another monster series given the Rockies' struggles on the mound.

Colorado owns a major league-high 5.25 staff ERA and has surrendered an NL-worst 113 homers.

Drew Pomeranz was the latest Rockies starter to get hit hard, giving up all five runs in Sunday's 5-1 loss to Philadelphia. The Rockies (34-54) have compiled a 6.53 ERA while dropping 12 of their last 16 home games.

They'll try to bounce back behind Jeff Francis (2-2, 5.19 ERA), who's been possibly their best pitcher of late, going 2-1 with a 2.77 ERA while issuing just three walks over his last five starts spanning 26 innings.

"I love playing for this team," Francis told MLB's official website. "They gave me a shot, and so far I've pitched well to take advantage of that. Hopefully, it sticks."

Francis, though, wasn't very sharp the last time he took the mound, yielding three runs over five innings of a 4-1 defeat at Washington on July 7.

The left-hander is 3-3 with a 6.88 ERA in six career starts against the Pirates, who he hasn't faced since 2010.

Pittsburgh counters with Jeff Karstens (2-2, 3.94), who was superb in winning each of his final two outings before the All-Star break. After allowing two runs over seven innings of a 7-3 victory at St. Louis, the right-hander struck out a season-high eight in eight innings of four-hit ball July 5 to defeat Houston 2-0.

"When you face a guy that throws 90 with a slow breaking ball, it's not only hard to hit the breaking ball but hard to hit the fastball, too," Astros second baseman Jose Altuve said. "You get caught between those two pitches."

Though he's never started against the Rockies, Karstens has had his way with several of their hitters. Tyler Colvin is 0 for 8 lifetime against Karstens, while Carlos Gonzalez and Marco Scutaro are both 0 for 3.

Pittsburgh, which took two of three from Colorado at home April 24-25, has won four of six at Coors Field.

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