The Pittsburgh Pirates are back in the Steel City following a lengthy sojourn and will host the Chicago Cubs Thursday in the opener of a four-game series from PNC Park.
The Pirates at back in Pittsburgh for 11 straight games versus the Cubs, San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds. They just swept the Texas Rangers in three games and went 5-4 on the road trip.
In Wednesday's 7-5 win over the Rangers, Justin Morneau had four hits and two runs scored, Clint Barmes homered and Marlon Byrd provided two hits and crossed the plate.
"The thing I'm most impressed with is our consistency, our focus and our preparation," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said after his club's eighth series sweep of the season and third on the road. "It doesn't waver. We didn't come here with sweep on our mind. We came in here to win the first game."
A.J. Burnett was able to pick up the win even though he was reached for five runs and six hits in 6 1/3 innings. Four relievers kept the Rangers off the scoreboard and Kyle Farnsworth took over in the ninth to post his first save.
Pittsburgh has already guaranteed its first winning season since 1992 and will start its last homestand of the regular season. The Pirates are 45-25 at PNC Park this season and sit one game behind St. Louis for the NL Central lead. They also occupy the top spot in the NL wild card hunt.
Since PNC Park opened in 2001, the only season in which the Pirates won as many as 45 games was 2012 (45-36).
Taking the mound for the Buccos Thursday will be Jeff Locke. Locke is 0-3 in his last eight starts and hasn't won since July 21 at Cincinnati. He gave up three runs -- two earned -- in five innings of a 5-0 loss at St. Louis on Saturday and has allowed at least two runs in each of his past four trips to the mound (18 total).
Locke, a left-hander, has no record in three career starts against the Cubs. In 13 starts at home this season, Locke is 4-2 with a 4.52 ERA.
Chicago began an 11-game road trip by winning two of three against the Cincinnati Reds. The Cubs tried for the sweep, but suffered a 6-0 loss Wednesday.
Jeff Samardzija was saddled with the loss for allowing all six runs and eight hits, including two homers, in 5 2/3 innings and got nothing from the offense. The Cubs scored 11 runs over the first two meetings with the Reds.
"Other than the two home run balls, there wasn't really hard contact all day long," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.
Chris Rusin will make his 11th start to the season Thursday for the Cubs and is 2-3 with a 2.89 earned run average through the first 10. Rusin is 0-2 in his last five outings and has recorded three straight no-decisions. He lasted 3 2/3 frames in an 8-5 win over Milwaukee and allowed two runs and seven hits.
Rusin has faced Pittsburgh twice in his career, going 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA.
The Cubs have lost seven of 12 meetings with the Pirates this season.