Cubs-Pirates Preview

The Pittsburgh Pirates have proven nearly unbeatable over the last week, a stretch that began with a three-game sweep at Wrigley Field.

Facing the last-place Chicago Cubs again should only further that momentum.

Pittsburgh looks to continue its playoff push Friday night in the first of three against the visiting Cubs, who are on the verge of their longest losing streak in nearly two years.

The Pirates (77-69) are coming off their sixth win in seven days, 4-1 at Philadelphia on Thursday. Francisco Liriano delivered eight dominant innings as Pittsburgh climbed within 2 1/2 games of St. Louis for the NL Central lead.

"It's what we've been doing ever since Chicago," Andrew McCutchen, whose club holds the league's second wild-card spot, told MLB's official website. "We just got to keep it up."

The Pirates have taken five straight from the Cubs, outscoring them 20-7 at Wrigley last weekend. Gerrit Cole (8-5, 3.89 ERA) allowed four runs over six innings in Sunday's 10-4 victory, earning his first win in four starts since returning from a lat injury.

The right-hander also helped himself with a two-run homer, the first of his career.

Cole has compiled a 3.24 ERA in winning each of his four starts in the series, striking out 31 over 25 innings.

Chicago (64-82) has dropped six in a row after getting outscored 28-3 during a three-game sweep at Toronto. The Cubs have gone 5 for 41 with runners in scoring position during their skid, including an 0-for-7 effort in Wednesday's 11-1 defeat.

Chicago, which is assured of its fifth straight losing season, hasn't suffered seven consecutive defeats since Sept. 22-29, 2012.

"I'd love to be able to explain to you exactly what's going on the last five or six days, but stuff just happens," manager Rick Renteria said. "We have a well-needed day off (Thursday) and we're leaving for Pittsburgh, and hopefully we're able to recover and get something started Friday."

Javier Baez has seen his average dip to .171 after going 4 for his last 39, and fellow rookie Arismendy Alcantara is batting .130 over a 14-game stretch.

Tsuyoshi Wada (4-2, 2.95) is ready to get back on the hill after leaving last Friday's loss to Pittsburgh with one out in the fourth inning due to cramping in his calf. The left-hander gave up three runs - two earned - and hit two batters in his first appearance in the series.

Wada is 0-1 despite a 2.70 ERA over three road starts.

Anthony Rizzo could be nearing a return after missing the last 15 games with a back injury. The All-Star first baseman is a career .207 hitter at PNC Park.

"He's one to try and push himself to get back," Renteria said. "And we all have to be mindful that we're looking to long-term benefits of having him as a position player for us. We're going slow and kind of making sure that if he does happen to get back that he's good to go."

Andrew McCutchen is batting .425 with four homers, four doubles and 12 RBIs over a 10-game stretch against Chicago. Jordy Mercer is 10 for his last 31 in the series with four homers and nine RBIs.

The Pirates could be without Starling Marte, who exited Thursday after getting hit by a pitch on his elbow. He had hit safely in each of the previous 10 games, going 16 for 41 with four doubles and two homers.

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