Pirates hope to keep rounding into form vs. Cubs

( - The reigning Most Valuable Player is getting hot, a prized rookie prospect is on the way and a 16-game winner from a season ago has found his groove. At this moment, at least, it seems good to be the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Manager Clint Hurdle's team will put that assumption to the test again on Tuesday night, when they host the Chicago Cubs in game two of a four-game series at PNC Park.

The Pirates won game one on Monday when MVP Andrew McCutchen hit a two-run homer and drove in three runs in a 6-2 win, continuing a recent hot stretch that's seen him hit four home runs in eight June games after he'd hit just four combined through the season's first two months.

He's hitting .375 for the new month with 10 extra-base hits.

"When I get the barrel to it, good things happen," McCutchen said. "That's basically what I'm doing."

The arriving first-year phenom comes in the form of third baseman Gregory Polanco, who'll come up from Triple-A Indianapolis to fill the spot of Neil Walker, who's sidelined after an emergency appendectomy. Polanco has thrived at Triple-A thus far in 2014, hitting .347 with seven home runs and 49 RBIs in 62 games.

He arrives in support of lefty Francisco Liriano, who's been given just 2.08 runs per game this season -- lowest in the majors -- but has had prolonged success against the Cubs, including three wins in four decisions since the beginning of 2013.

He's struck out 46 in 40 innings when matched with Chicago in that time frame, and he retired 10 on strikes in six scoreless innings in a game the Pirates won, 1-0, in the 2014 opener.

In his last start on Wednesday, Liriano allowed a hit and six walks in a 3-2 loss to San Diego.

"I didn't think it was just a case of him wrestling with his delivery," Hurdle said. "We can't put a finger on it."

Oddly, Liriano has a 2.84 earned run average on the road, but it swells to 5.97 at home.

The Cubs counter with lefty Travis Wood, who'll continue to swing a potent bat to go along with his pitching.

Wood allowed two runs in a Thursday outing against the New York Mets, but helped himself with a home run and three RBI. He's driven in eight runs this season and he's hitting .273.

"I feel like we're commanded to hit in this league," Wood said, "Why not try to be the best you can at it?"

Wood has won just two of six decisions on the road with an ugly 8.04 ERA this season. He's been traditionally good in Pittsburgh, though, winning four of five career decisions there with a far more tolerable 1.91 ERA.

On Monday, Charlie Morton gave up just six hits and a run without walking a batter and threw 59 of his 82 pitches for strikes. Ike Davis also homered and Starling Marte had three hits and two RBI for the Pirates.

Chicago's Edwin Jackson (4-6) opposed Morton for the third time this season and went six innings, allowing four runs on seven hits and two walks with eight strikeouts.

The Pirates have won five of seven versus the Cubs this season.