Opposite dugout: Pirates beginning to emerge from early-season funk

PiratesLogo.jpgManager: Clint Hurdle, fourth year
Record: 18-25
Last 10 games: 5-5
Who to watch: CF Andrew McCutchen (.301/.425/.468, 16 XBH, 19 RBIs); 2B Neil Walker (.259/.339/.458, 9 HR, 25 RBIs); LHP Francisco Liriano (0-3, 4.25 ERA, 49 K); LHP Wandy Rodriguez (0-2, 6.84 ERA)
Season series vs. O’s: 0-2, 6 runs scored, 11 runs against

Pitching probables
May 20: Francisco Liriano vs. Miguel Gonzalez, 7 p.m., MASN2 HD
May 21: Wandy Rodriguez vs. Chris Tillman, 7 p.m., MASN2 HD

Series breakdown
Since the Pirates played the Orioles at the beginning of May, they’ve begun to emerge from their early-season funk.

They’re not hot by any means, but are 8-7 over their 15 games since a 4-15 slump.

Led by center fielder Andrew McCutchen, second baseman Neil Walker and third baseman Pedro Alvarez, the offense has been the key to Pittsburgh’s improved play.

The Pirates have scored at least four runs nine times in the last 15 games, averaging 4.3 runs during that time. They’ve been outscored 70-65 over the course of the upswing, but are 7-4 in games decided by one or two runs.

McCutchen remains the centerpiece, leading the team with an .893 OPS while adding 16 extra-base hits and 19 RBIs. Walker has been the main power source with team-highs of nine homers and 25 RBIs. Alvarez is batting just .209, but has eight homers and 24 RBIs.

That improved hitting has elevated Pittsburgh to eighth in the National League with a .245 average and 41 homers, and 10th with 167 runs.

The pitching has continued to be problematic for the Pirates, as they rank 12th in the NL with a 3.91 ERA and own the second-worst starters’ ERA in the league (4.48).

Pittsburgh will start a pair of inconsistent veteran left-handers who missed the first two-game series against the Orioles. At PNC Park, Francisco Liriano will be seeking his first win of the season tonight and Wandy Rodriguez will be making his second start back from the disabled list.

Liriano is 0-3, but is coming off a strong start where he allowed one run in six innings. Rodriguez went on the DL with a knee injury in April before returning to hold the Brewers to two runs in five innings last Thursday.

The Pirates bullpen has been solid with the fourth-best relief ERA in the NL (2.85). That’s in large part thanks to left-hander Tony Watson (4-0, 1.33 ERA) and right-hander Mark Melancon (six saves, 2.25 ERA).

So the Orioles can’t overlook the sub-.500 Pirates, as they’ll have to contend with an upstart lineup on top of a pair of starters coming off solid outings.

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