Red-hot right-handed veteran A.J. Burnett aims for a fifth consecutive victory - and potentially a share of first place - when the Pittsburgh Pirates host the Kansas City Royals in the third and final game of their interleague series today at PNC Park.
The Pirates enter the finale just a game off the pace of the front-running Cincinnati Reds in the National League Central Division. Pittsburgh gained a game Saturday with a 5-3 defeat of the Royals, while the Reds dropped a 3-2 decision to Detroit.
Burnett, a 35-year-old from North Little Rock, Ark., was just 1-2 with an 8.04 earned run average through his initial three starts of 2012, but the Pirates have won six consecutive games in which he's pitched.
He earned no-decisions in wins over Washington and Houston on May 8 and 13, then began a string of four straight wins with a 4-3 decision at Detroit on May 19.
Burnett has subsequently defeated the Chicago Cubs once and Cincinnati twice to stretch the streak to four - a run in which he's allowed 20 hits and six runs in 23 1/3 innings while seeing his ERA drop from 5.12 to 3.76.
Burnett is 4-3 in 10 career starts against the Royals.
Kansas City starts a streaking veteran of its own, as Bruce Chen aims for a sixth win in his last seven outings.
The Panama native, who'll turn 35 later this month, was 0-4 through his initial six starts this year before a 4-3 defeat of the Boston Red Sox on May 9 in Kansas City.
In five starts since that win, he's gone 4-1 - defeating Texas, Arizona, Cleveland and Minnesota while losing only at Baltimore.
Chen is 2-2 in six road starts this season and 1-4 in 14 career meetings with Pittsburgh.
On Saturday, Alex Presley, Neil Walker, Garrett Jones and Clint Barmes all picked up an RBI for the Pirates, who have won five of their last six games. Jared Hughes (2-0) tossed 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to earn the win after starter James McDonald failed to go five innings.
The Pirates pinch-hit for McDonald in the bottom of the fourth inning after he gave up three runs on five hits through four frames.
Vin Mazzaro (2-1) struggled for Kansas City, allowing four runs - three earned - in three-plus innings. He struck out four, although he also walked four in Kansas City's third straight loss.
The Royals lead the interleague series, 13-12, but the Pirates won two of three the last time the teams met in 2009.