"We started a bit of a downward trend [this season], where we were 6-10," Bucs skipper Jim Tracy said. "We lost a heartbreaking game [April 21] in L.A. on a Saturday. We won the Sunday game and ended up winning five games in a row. We've been punched again the last couple days. The question is, have we grown enough as a club to where we realize that and everyone looks around and said collectively, 'Let's pick each other up'?"
Tracy said those words shortly before winning the series opener Thursday, when the Pirates took a 4-2 victory. Three losses later, the team is back at four games below .500, the same place they were in Los Angeles after allowing a run in the ninth to tie it and four in the 10th.
As was the case then, the most recent loss is among the most disappointing: a 6-4 loss to Milwaukee after Bill Hall came up with a go-ahead single in the eighth inning. Pittsburgh had rallied from four runs down to the tie the game in the seventh.
"We have a long way to go, obviously," Tracy said. "I'm very sure they're aware of that, too. They're a very professional group of players and even though we won one ballgame in this series, when you look what we were able to provide offensively, we really had a chance to split. If we take one at-bat like they took a few of in this series, we might have won two or three in this series.
If a similar subsequent winning streak is in order, it will have to come against another hot ballclub, the Chicago Cubs, currently sitting in second place in the National League Central behind the Brewers.
With their win over Washington on Sunday, the Cubs are 5-0 in May, bolstered by an offense that has the National League's third-best batting average. Pittsburgh's bats, meanwhile, are thirsting for a turnaround, after going scoreless in 39 of their past 43 innings.
On Tuesday, the club will face lefty Ted Lilly for the second time in a week, after he went 5 1/3 innings in the rain-divided game May 1, in which the Cubs rallied for victory at PNC Park. Ronny Paulino had two hits in as many at-bats against the southpaw, including a solo home run.
PIT: RHP Ian Snell (2-2, 2.31 ERA)
Snell had his shortest and least effective outing of the season on Wednesday in the Pirates' loss to the Cubs. Snell pitched five innings, allowing four runs on four hits, walking four, tossing a wild pitch and hitting a batter. Still, Snell has been charged for two earned runs or less in five of his six starts and has allowed just two home runs thus far.
CHC: LHP Ted Lilly (2-2, 2.82)
Lilly did not get a decision in his last start against the Pirates on May 1. In that game, he gave up five runs -- four earned -- on nine hits over 5 1/3 innings. It was the most hits the lefty has served up and his shortest outing. He did strike out five, and he ranks among the NL leaders in strikeouts with 38.
Derrek Lee is 4-for-11 (.364) with three doubles and five RBIs in his career against Snell, and he also happens to lead the National League in hitting. On the Internet
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WPGB-FM 104.7 Up next
Wednesday: Pirates (Tom Gorzelanny, 4-1, 2.97) at Chicago (Jason Marquis, 4-1, 2.09), 8:05 p.m. ET
Thursday: Pirates (Paul Maholm, 1-4, 5.51) at Chicago (Carlos Zambrano, 3-2, 5.80), 2:20 p.m. ET
Friday: Atlanta (Kyle Davies, 0-1, 6.41) at Pirates (Zach Duke, 1-3, 5.50), 7:05 p.m. ET.
JR Radcliffe is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.