Bucs' power surge continues vs. Cubs

Bucs' power surge continues

PITTSBURGH -- For months, Pirates manager Jim Tracy had stated his desire to see what his offense would look like if things all came together.

It looks like he's finally getting his wish, as the Pirates offense pounded Cubs starter Jason Marquis on Friday, and the Bucs won their fourth straight, 8-4, in front of 27,868 fans at PNC Park.

For the second time in three nights, the Pirates bats rebounded in a big way against a starter who had dominated them earlier in the season. On Wednesday, the Bucs touched up Brewers starter Claudio Vargas for five runs after he had given up just one run in two previous starts against them.

The numbers against Marquis were even more daunting. The Pirates had lost both of their games against the right-hander, as they mustered only one run on seven hits 17 innings.

But the Bucs were all over Marquis on Friday. Pittsburgh starter Paul Maholm doubled his season RBIs total when he put the Pirates on the board with a two-run single in the second. After the Cubs quickly tied it up in the third, the Bucs answered with solo home runs from Freddy Sanchez and Xavier Nady in the bottom half to take a 4-2 lead.

They padded the advantage to four and chased Marquis with RBI doubles by Ryan Doumit and Jose Bautista in the fifth.

That's a total of six earned runs on eight hits in 4 2/3 innings for Marquis. Tracy said the Pirates were able to produce in their third try against him because of an improved approach at the plate.

"We chased bad pitches [in Marquis' other two starts], we got ourselves in bad hitting counts because we were swinging at bad pitches early," Tracy said. "To Jason Marquis' credit, I don't think that was one of his better performances tonight, but when you got a guy that has been pitching well and on a given night he doesn't pitch so well, you've got to take advantage of it."

The Pirates did on Friday, and the offense was led by Nady. He went 3-for-4 with three runs and two RBIs and fell a triple shy of the cycle. He's gone 20-for-53 in his last 13 games.

"As a team, you have guys on base and it's always fun to hit. It's kind of contagious," Nady said. "Hopefully you put up some runs."

The Pirates have been putting them up in bunches lately, and Tracy credited that to the recent emergence of Adam LaRoche. LaRoche went 0-for-4 on Friday, but is 16-for-36 in his last nine games and appears to be turning the corner offensively.

"All of a sudden he comes alive, and the next thing you know there's four or five guys with him that are alive. It changes the complexion of our offense," Tracy said.

The offense has changed from a unit that had been maligned earlier in the season for providing too little run support and causing the records of pitchers like Ian Snell to suffer as a result. Recently, Tracy said, it has started to become the unit he envisioned.

"Over the last few days or so, balls are being driven. We're hitting home runs. We're taking great at-bats. We're giving ourselves a very good chance to hit a ball hard because of the approach we're taking at the plate," Tracy said. "It all adds up."

Eight runs totaled more than enough support for Maholm, who fell just shy of his third consecutive quality start when he surrendered two base runners in the eighth who eventually came around to score on sacrifice flies off reliever Shawn Chacon.

Maholm pitched through the seventh for the fourth straight start, and said he's being successful because he's been keeping his delivery consistent throughout the game.

"I'm a lot more comfortable, a lot more consistent," Maholm said. "I'm able to get ahead with most of my pitches and not really get into a funk where it's a little off."

The combination of the jump in offensive production and steady pitching has led the Bucs to a 6-2 start to this homestand, and given them some newfound confidence.

"Going off the past, we hadn't been doing so well," LaRoche said. "So you go in thinking, 'Well, if we can win five or six then, we'll be doing OK.' And now, all of a sudden, we've taken off and won, what is it? Four in a row?

"Five tomorrow," he added. "Excuse me."

Jeremy Anders is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.