Pittsburgh's inexplicable losing streak to one of the NL's worst teams is over, so all of its attention can again be focused on tracking down baseball's best.
The Pirates host the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday night, and another win could get them as close as 2 1/2 games to NL Central-leading St. Louis.
Prior to Friday's 6-3 win over the Brewers (62-79), the Pirates (84-56) had dropped seven straight and nine of 10 in the series to a team that's 17-24 against the rest of the division.
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"Regardless of who we're playing, we have to win," Charlie Morton said. "We're a good team. We can beat anybody and we've just got to win."
St. Louis will finish a suspended game before its scheduled contest in Cincinnati, so the Pirates could pick up 1 1/2 games in the standings. They were last within 2 1/2 games at the All-Star break.
Since being swept in three games in Milwaukee to begin the month, Pittsburgh's rotation has gotten it together with a 1.69 ERA over a 5-3 span. It's up to Jeff Locke to keep that going.
Locke (7-10, 4.56 ERA) has dropped consecutive starts and made it through at least six innings only once in his last nine, going 2-4 with a 5.79 ERA. The left-hander improved some in Monday's 3-1 loss in Cincinnati, allowing three runs -- one earned -- and four hits with six strikeouts in five-plus innings. A two-error second inning made his pitch count jump, and his manager was happy with the individual effort.
"I thought (Locke) pitched a very aggressive ballgame . . . probably some of his better swing-and-miss stuff that we've seen in a while," Clint Hurdle said. "It was a very good outing."
Prior to that, Locke surrendered five runs and nine hits in 3 2/3 innings of a 9-4 loss in Milwaukee on Sept. 2 for his second straight defeat in the series. Jean Segura (10 for 29) and Ryan Braun (9 for 28) have homered off him, but Khris Davis is 4 for 21 with seven strikeouts.
He'll be opposed by Zach Davies.
Davies (1-0, 3.97) earned his first major-league win in Monday's 9-1 win in Miami, giving up a run and four hits in seven innings without issuing a walk. The right-hander had control issues five days prior in his debut against Pittsburgh, surrendering four runs and four hits with three walks in 4 1/3 innings of a 9-4 home win. What's remained consistent is support with 14 runs in 11 1/3 innings.
"The offense took care of it," Davies said. "It gets you comfortable, makes you stay in the zone a little bit more, because you don't want to be wasting pitches and wasting time out there when the lead is like that."
Milwaukee has dropped four of six following a six-game winning streak that included the sweep of the Pirates and now finds itself on the doorstep of 80 losses for a third straight season. That's been a forgone conclusion for some time, but the Brewers have pushed it back some by going a respectable 18-16 dating to Aug. 4. Their 4.9 runs per game in that time ranks fourth in the NL behind the New York Mets, Chicago Cubs and Washington.
The last three have come without Jonathan Lucroy due to a concussion, and he's not expected to play Saturday.
Pittsburgh's Starling Marte (left shoulder discomfort) was held out of the starting lineup Friday after being hit by a pitch Thursday.