Pirates shoot for first sweep at Wrigley Field since 2000

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The Pittsburgh Pirates have been keeping pace in the NL Central race. To do so again on Wednesday, they'll have to record their first road sweep of the Chicago Cubs in over 13 years.

The Pirates turn to left-hander Francisco Liriano this afternoon just two games back of the St. Louis Cardinals for first place in the division after Tuesday night's 8-2 victory at Wrigley Field.

The Cardinals blanked the Washington Nationals to maintain their edge over the Pirates and have a magic number of three to lock up the division crown.

"We're still trying to win our division. That's what we're shooting for. So, (we're) trying to win out here and continue to keep going for the next four games," said Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen.

The Pirates did move a game clear of the Cincinnati Reds for the NL's first wild card spot. Both the Pirates and Reds have already clinched playoff spots and will meet for a three-game series in Cincinnati beginning on Friday to close the regular season.

Pittsburgh would rather be battling for a division title than home-field advantage for the wild card playoff game and hope Liriano can do his part today. He is 16-7 with a 2.88 earned run average in 25 starts this season and will try to become the first Pirate to win more than 16 games in a season since John Smiley went 20-8 in 1991.

After getting a decision in each of his first 23 outings, the 29-year-old Liriano has not factored into the outcome of his last two starts.

Liriano hurled six innings and gave up two runs on three hits and four walks in his club's 3-2 win over the Cubs on Sept. 15. He is 3-1 with a 2.08 ERA in five lifetime meetings with Chicago.

Liriano then squared off against the Reds last Friday and was in line for a win after yielding just two runs on three hits and three walks over eight frames. He struck out seven, but the bullpen could not hold the lead.

The Pirates picked up their fourth victory in six games last night. After winning the opener 2-1 on Monday, they had an easier time of things in the six-run triumph thanks to three RBI from Pedro Alvarez and a homer off the bat of Jordy Mercer.

Gerrit Cole worked six innings, giving up seven hits and two runs with six strikeouts. He also contributed a two-run single, putting the Pirates in position for their first sweep at Wrigley Field since a three-game series from May 5-7, 2000.

Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo knocked in runs for the Cubs, who have dropped three in a row and nine of their last 11. They fell to 30-50 at home this season.

"To lose that many games at home is something you have to stay away from," said Cubs manager Dale Sveum. "We've got to score more runs at home. This year has been tough. We seem to do more things on the road this year than we have at home."

Chris Rusin was yanked after 2 1/3 frames, charged with six hits and four runs in defeat.

The Cubs, who visit the Cardinals for three games to close the regular season, hand the ball to Jake Arrieta today.

The right-hander has gone 3-2 with a 3.94 ERA in eight starts with Chicago since being acquired in a trade with Baltimore. He has allowed two runs over 20 2/3 innings in those three wins and was charged with one run over seven innings in a victory over Milwaukee last Thursday. He matched his longest outing in a Cubs uniform.

The 27-year-old Arrieta had yielded four runs -- three earned -- over five innings of a no-decision versus the Pirates five days earlier in a no-decision and is 2-0 against them lifetime with a 3.71 ERA in three starts.

The Pirates have won 12 of 18 versus the Cubs this season, going 5-3 in Chicago.