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Slumping Pirates take on Cubs at Wrigley Field

The Pittsburgh Pirates are in danger of continuing several years of futility with their recent fall from grace.

The once-hyped Pirates are mired in a season-high six-game losing streak and look to take out their frustration on the Chicago Cubs tonight in the opener of a four-game series at Wrigley Field.

Pittsburgh is only 2-10 in its last 12 games and hasn't had a winning season since its last playoff appearance in 1992 (96-66). The club is winless in nine straight road games and was swept in back-to-back three-game series against the Cubs and Cincinnati Reds.

In Wednesday's 2-1 loss to the Reds, Pirates starter A.J. Burnett was aiming for his 16th win of the season, but allowed both runs and five hits over six innings of work. He struck out eight and walked two batters.

"He pitched a very good ballgame," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Burnett. "He gave us the start we needed."

The last time a Pittsburgh pitcher won more than 15 games was back in 1991, when Zane Smith (16-10) and John Smiley (20-8) achieved the feat.

Gaby Sanchez had the lone RBI in the fourth inning and Andrew McCutchen recorded a team-best two hits for Pittsburgh, which is three games off the pace for the last wild card berth in the National League.

Pittsburgh, which is 0-3 on a seven-game road trip and mired in a stretch of 14-of-17 games as the visitor, will send James McDonald to the mound Friday and he is 12-7 with a 3.93 earned run average in 28 starts this season. He is 2-4 with a 6.42 ERA in his last nine starts, with Pittsburgh going 2-7.

McDonald last took the mound in a 4-3 home loss to the Cubs on Saturday and yielded three runs in 5 2/3 innings. The right-hander is 0-1 with a 6.17 ERA in two starts against the Cubs this season and 0-2 with a 5.23 ERA in six career matchups (5 starts) in this series.

Chicago will begin a 10-game homestand Friday and just went 5-5 on a recent 10-day trip through Washington, Pittsburgh and Houston.

The Cubs won five of their last six games on the trek and took two of three in Houston, posting a series win with Wednesday's 5-1 victory thanks to 7 2/3 effective innings from Travis Wood. Wood held the Astros to a run and four hits, struck out six and walked only one batter.

"When we got him, we knew he had some arm strength and arm speed and could do some things," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of Wood, who was acquired in the offseason by Chicago.

Alfonso Soriano went 3-for-4 with a home run and two RBI, while Dave Sappelt also had three hits for Chicago, which ended a stretch of 20 games in 20 days (9-11) that began on August 24.

Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney has gone an NL single-season record and an overall league record 128 straight games without an error at second base.

Chris Rusin gets the nod for the Cubs tonight and he is 0-2 with a 5.73 earned run average over his first three major league starts. Rusin recorded a no- decision in a 4-2 road win over the Pirates on Sunday and allowed one run on five hits, while walking three and fanning four in five innings.

The left-handed Rusin has yet to exceed five innings in any of his starts and went 8-9 with a 4.55 ERA in 25 starts with Triple-A Iowa.

Chicago swept the Pirates in three games last weekend at PNC Park. The two NL Central inhabitants have split 12 meetings this season.