Pirates hope to ride Liriano to series win vs. Cubs

It has been 22 years since a Pittsburgh Pirates southpaw has won as many games as Francisco Liriano has this season.

Liriano looks to extend his career-high win total on Sunday afternoon and keep the Pirates atop the NL Central in the finale of a four-game set with the Chicago Cubs.

The 29-year-old Liriano is coming off a victory over Texas on Tuesday, when he gave up just one run on six hits and two walks over six innings. He moved to 16-7 with a 2.92 earned run average in 23 starts this season, becoming the first Pirates left-hander to win more than 15 games in a season since John Smiley and Zane Smith won 20 and 16 games, respectively, in 1991.

The Cubs have seen Liriano's resurgence a little more than they would have liked as the Dominican hurler has won all three of his outings versus Chicago this year while giving up just two runs over 23 innings.

Chicago also can't be happy to see Liriano on the PNC Park mound. He is 8-1 with a 1.21 ERA in nine home starts this year.

The Cubs do get to counter with their top hurler in 2013 All-Star Travis Wood. He is just 9-11 through 29 starts but with a solid 3.05 ERA.

The 26-year-old lefty has not given up an earned run in two of his past three starts, including Monday's 2-0 win in Cincinnati. Wood scattered six hits over seven scoreless frames, striking out seven without a walk.

"There wasn't a lot of hard contact tonight," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of his starter's effort. "It was obviously one of his better ones."

Wood is 4-5 with a 3.40 ERA in nine career meetings with the Pirates, including eight starts, and has yielded one run over 12 innings in splitting two outings versus them this year.

The Pirates rejoined the St. Louis Cardinals atop the NL Central with Saturday's 2-1 victory, while the Cards lost to Seattle. Both teams are 2 1/2 games ahead of Cincinnati in the standings.

Gerrit Cole pitched another solid outing for Pittsburgh, giving up just a run over seven innings of work.

"He's showing the mettle, skill level and talent that we saw when we drafted him," said Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle about Cole. "He's developing into a top-notch pitcher."

A pair of solo homers were the difference for the Pirates. Jose Tabata went deep in the sixth inning and Marlon Byrd added a homer in the seventh to lift Pittsburgh to its fifth victory in six games.

Nate Schierholtz drove in the lone run of the game for the Cubs, who have dropped three of their last four.

Scott Baker pitched six innings in the start, his second since his return from Tommy John surgery, giving up a run on three hits.

"I get to do something that I enjoying doing," said Baker. "It's definitely fun to go out there and compete at this level."

The Pirates are 9-6 versus the Cubs this season.