The Pittsburgh Pirates' Andrew McCutchen has been the hottest hitter in baseball over the last month-plus.
The All-Star outfielder seems unlikely to cool down with a visit to hitter-friendly Coors Field up next.
McCutchen looks to continue his torrid pace as the Pirates and Colorado Rockies open a three-game set Monday night.
Batting an MLB-best .458 with 11 homers, 31 RBIs and 30 runs scored since June 10, McCutchen has played a huge role in Pittsburgh's recent success.
Despite dropping two of three at Milwaukee over the weekend, the second-place Pirates (49-39) enter this series winners of 11 of 15 and sit one game behind Cincinnati for the NL Central lead.
McCutchen provided the only offense for Pittsburgh during Sunday's 4-1 defeat, going 3 for 4 with his fifth homer in four games.
McCutchen has a chance to become the first Pirate to homer in five straight games since Jose Castillo from May 26-31, 2006. He's batting .429 with a pair of long balls during a modest five-game hitting streak in Colorado, and could be in for another monster series given the Rockies' struggles on the mound.
Colorado owns a major league-high 5.25 staff ERA and has surrendered an NL-worst 113 homers.
Drew Pomeranz was the latest Rockies starter to get hit hard, giving up all five runs in Sunday's 5-1 loss to Philadelphia. The Rockies (34-54) have compiled a 6.53 ERA while dropping 12 of their last 16 home games.
They'll try to bounce back behind Jeff Francis (2-2, 5.19 ERA), who's been possibly their best pitcher of late, going 2-1 with a 2.77 ERA while issuing just three walks over his last five starts spanning 26 innings.
Francis, though, wasn't very sharp the last time he took the mound, yielding three runs over five innings of a 4-1 defeat at Washington on July 7.
The left-hander is 3-3 with a 6.88 ERA in six career starts against the Pirates, who he hasn't faced since 2010.
Pittsburgh counters with Jeff Karstens (2-2, 3.94), who was superb in winning each of his final two outings before the All-Star break. After allowing two runs over seven innings of a 7-3 victory at St. Louis, the right-hander struck out a season-high eight in eight innings of four-hit ball July 5 to defeat Houston 2-0.
With an eye toward 2013, the Rockies are going to get a good look at shortstop Josh Rutledge, whom they promoted Friday from Double-A Tulsa. Jonathan Herrera's right shoulder soreness played into the move to a small degree, but there were larger considerations.
Herrera's shoulder was considerably improved Saturday from 48 hours earlier; however, in the Rockies' first three games after the All-Star break, he has pinch hit twice but yet to play the field.
Rather than wait until September to bring Rutledge to the majors, the Rockies will get a look at him well before that month when the rosters are expanded, the effort level wanes for some teams that are lagging and there's a good deal less intensity than at this point in the season. Indeed, the period between now and the July 31 trade deadline is a particularly competitive time, and there's no letup in August when stretch runs begin in earnest.
With shortstop Troy Tulowitzki not expected to return until the latter part of August, the Rockies have an excellent opportunity to play Rutledge regularly and evaluate him. When Tulowitzki returns, Rutledge can get time playing second base, a position where he had some experience this season at Tulsa and where he figures to play in the future for the Rockies. Current second baseman Marco Scutaro, 36, could be traded in the weeks ahead, and if he's not, the Rockies will be looking for an upgrade at that position next season.
Rutledge is an intriguing possibility at second base, where he over-profiles as far as his potential offense with some power and the ability to run.
"He's a very good baseball player, there's no getting around that," said manager Jim Tracy, whose team fell to the Phillies 5-1 Sunday. "Is it going to be a work in progress beginning here? It certainly is. ... I'm sure there are going to be some rough edges, and that's OK, because there were rough edges with Carlos Gonzalez. There were rough edges with Dexter Fowler, who's doing pretty well right now. There were rough edges along the way with Tyler Colvin and he's doing pretty good right now."
Tracy emphasized that Rutledge was brought up to play regularly. "This guy's going to be a real good player," Tracy said, "trust me."
--CF Dexter Fowler went 2-for-4 and has had multiple hits in six of his past seven games. During July, Fowler has gone 15-for-29 (.517) with one double, one triple, one homer, two RBI and three runs scored. He has raised his average 14 points to .300 during the month.
--LF Carlos Gonzalez drove in the Rockies' only run with a sixth-inning triple. The triple was his fifth of the season; he hit a career-high nine triples in 2010. Gonzalez has 43 extra-base hits, including 21 doubles and 17 homers. His career highs in the latter two categories are 34 doubles and 34 homers both in 2010.
--RHP Jhoulys Chacin, who last pitched for the Rockies on May 1 and has been out with a nerve irritation in a pectoral muscle, will throw a two-inning, 30-pitch simulated game Tuesday. He's expected to throw about 65 pitches total, counting his work in the bullpen before the simulated game.
--After going 2-for-2 with two RBI, a sacrifice fly and a walk to begin his major league career Friday, SS Josh Rutledge is 0-for-8 with one run scored, a walk and a strikeout in his past two games. --According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Rutledge is only the second Rockies player to go 2-for-2 or better and drive in at least two runs in his major league debut. On Sept. 9, 1998, OF Derrick Gibson went 4-for-4 with two RBI in his big league debut. Rutledge is the first Rockies player with a hit in his first major league plate appearance since Jordan Pacheco on Sept. 6, 2011, and the first with a double in his first major league plate appearance since OF Cory Sullivan on April 4, 2005. Rutledge also became the first Rockies player with two hits in his first two plate appearances since C Ben Petrick on Sept. 1, 1999.
--The Rockies are 3-12 in Sunday games this season and 9-31 going back to the start of the 2011 season, during which they set a modern-day major league record with 17 consecutive Sunday losses. The Rockies are 5-10 in rubber games overall and 3-4 at home. And at 34-54, the Rockies have matched their season high of 20 games below .500. Before the All-Star break, they were 31-51 and 32-52. The Rockies are 7-19-3 in series overall and 5-8-2 at home.
--RHP Jeremy Guthrie has allowed 19 home runs in 88 innings, the last a three-run shot Saturday night by Phillies C Carlos Ruiz during a four-run first as the Rockies lost 8-5. Eleven of the homers off Guthrie have been hit by left-handed hitters, who are averaging .345 (67-for-194) against him. Guthrie is 1-5 with a 9.23 ERA at Coors Field in eight games, six starts, where opponents are hitting .365 against him.
BY THE NUMBERS: 171 -- At-bats for 3B Jordan Pacheco since he hit his only home run of the season May 17 against Tim Cahill of the Diamondbacks. Pacheco, who has one homer this season in 206 at-bats, has one extra-base hit dating from June 13 and a .393 slugging percentage.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "To go head-to-head is something I didn't think was going to happen last offseason at any point in time. It was kind of cool the way it worked out." -- LHP Christian Friedrich, who worked out for 10 days last winter in Arkansas with Phillies LHP Cliff Lee on facing Lee in his 13th career start July 13 as the Rockies won 6-2. Friedrich won, giving up one run and allowing one run in six innings, while Lee allowed three runs, two earned, in six innings.