Charlie Morton's first attempt at matching a career high in wins fell flat during his team's rut last week. The Pittsburgh Pirates hope his second try helps them continue a hot streak and punch a ticket to the postseason.
Morton looks to help the Pirates grab their fifth straight victory and clinch a playoff berth for the third consecutive year Wednesday night as they visit the last-place Colorado Rockies.
The Pirates (91-60) have sliced their magic number to one after taking the first two of this four-game series by a combined score of 15-6, making it four wins in five games against the Rockies this season and eight of 11 since the beginning of 2014.
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Pittsburgh holds a two-game lead over the Chicago Cubs for the NL's top wild card and 9 1/2 over its next closest pursuer - San Francisco - while sitting four back of NL Central-leading St. Louis.
"We're not looking at yesterday, we're not looking at the team behind us," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We're not looking at tomorrow or the team in front of us. We need to take care of our game."
Before eyeing October, the Pirates would like to see Morton (9-8, 4.26 ERA) get back on track and reach double digits in victories for the first time since he won 10 games in 2011.
The eight-year veteran has lost four of his last five starts, allowing 20 runs and 30 hits in 27 1-3 innings. The wheels really came off in his last outing - the third of four straight losses for Pittsburgh - as the right-hander was pummeled Thursday by the Cubs for nine hits and six runs in four innings. It was his shortest outing since June 21.
The second loss during Morton's current slump came against the Rockies (63-88), who scored five runs - three earned - off him in six innings of a 5-0 win Aug. 30. That game came in Pittsburgh, but he's been no better at Coors Field with a 5.51 ERA in three career starts.
Carlos Gonzalez is 1 for 8 in this series, but he's 6 for 18 against Morton with a double and a home run.
Morton's struggles this season start in the first inning, where he has allowed at least one run in 10 of his 21 starts. Opponents are hitting .376 against him in the opening frame with 13 extra-base hits and four home runs.
He might catch a break if Colorado slugger Nolan Arenado is unavailable. The third baseman left Tuesday's game in the ninth inning after hitting his head on the ground while diving for a ball. He passed a concussion test and will be evaluated Wednesday.
"He'll be fine," manager Walt Weiss told MLB's official website. "At that point, there was no sense keeping him out there."
Pittsburgh's Aramis Ramirez also left Tuesday's game with tightness in his left groin. Ramirez has hit .344 with seven RBIs in his last nine games.
His potential absence would be good news for Colorado's Christian Bergman because Ramirez is 3 for 3 with two doubles off the right-hander.
Bergman (3-0, 3.81) is getting a spot start with Jorge De La Rosa (Achilles) on the mend. He's made 10 starts for Colorado in his first two MLB seasons, though nine came in 2014 and the other came April 14 when he threw four scoreless innings at San Francisco.
He has a 0.90 ERA in his last five relief appearances, allowing just a solo home run while pitching 3 1-3 innings to earn the win in Saturday's 10-2 victory over San Diego.