The Pittsburgh Pirates are already assured of an 18th consecutive losing season and on pace to drop more than 100 games, but the club is showing some signs of improvement.
The trouble is they’re now hitting the road. To make matters worse, they’re going to Milwaukee.
Losers of 10 straight road games, the Pirates try to win three in a row for the first time in nearly two months in Friday night’s series opener against the Brewers at Miller Park, where they’ve struggled mightily.
Pittsburgh, a major league-worst 13-48 on the road, has dropped 34 of 38 away from PNC Park and been outscored 60-16 during a 10-game road skid.
The Pirates have had similar problems in Milwaukee, where they’re 3-27 since 2007. A 7-3 win at Miller Park on April 27 ended a 22-game losing streak there.
Milwaukee, 10-5 against Pittsburgh this year, matched a season low with only two hits Thursday in losing its fourth straight - all at home.
Milwaukee tries to get back on track in the opener against scheduled starter James McDonald (2-3, 5.04 ERA).
After allowing one run and three hits in seven innings in a win over Florida on Aug. 16, McDonald permitted five runs, six hits and five walks in Saturday’s 5-1 loss to the Mets. The right-hander, acquired from the Dodgers on July 31, had walked four over 17 2-3 innings in his first three starts for Pittsburgh.
This will be McDonald’s first career start against the Brewers after pitching six scoreless innings in four relief outings against them last season.
Milwaukee counters with Chris Narveson (9-7, 5.69), who allowed three runs and four hits in just three-plus innings in Saturday’s 6-5 win over San Diego.
The left-hander is 1-0 with a 4.91 ERA in two starts against the Pirates this season.
Since coming up from Class AAA Nashville on Aug. 6, rookie center fielder Lorenzo Cain has held his own offensively.
But Cain has done much more than that in the field. Manager Ken Macha has been impressed with the defensive play of Cain, who showed off his arm twice Wednesday night without recording an out.
In the fifth inning of that 5-4 loss to the Dodgers, Cain nearly threw out Ryan Theriot on a line-drive sacrifice fly by Matt Kemp despite running toward right field to make the catch. In the sixth, Cain again almost nabbed Theriot, this time at third base, when Theiot advanced from second on a fly to deep center by Andre Ethier.
"Oh man, what a throw," Macha said of Cain's toss to the plate.
"When you're running like (Cain) was running on that sacrifice fly, and then you put the brakes on and make a fairly accurate throw and get a close play ... I didn't even think he had a chance."
Asked about Cain's defense in general, Macha said, "It has been better than expected."
The Brewers already had a superb defensive center fielder, Carlos Gomez, but he has not been able to get the job done offensively. In 76 games, Gomez is batting .228 with a .285 on-base percentage.
DODGERS 7, BREWERS 1: The Brewers didn't put up much of a fight in falling to 16-29 in day games, including a 9-15 mark at home. They collected only two hits, none after 1B Prince Fielder produced their only run with a homer in the fourth inning off Carlos Monasterios. Brewers RHP Yovani Gallardo had good enough stuff to strike out 10 hitters but still allowed eight hits and six walks in 6 1/3 innings. The big blow was a two-run homer in the sixth by Dodgers 3B Casey Blake that expanded the Dodgers' lead to 4-1. Gallardo has reached double digits in strikeouts 10 times in his career, with seven of them coming this season. The Brewers were swept in the three-game series.
--LHP Zach Braddock has put together a nice rookie season in the bullpen, turning out to be more than a lefty specialist. Manager Ken Macha said he likes that Braddock can cover an entire inning, including right-handed hitters. Braddock is unscored upon in 28 of his 32 appearances.
--RHP Mike McClendon surrendered his first major league run in his third appearance Wednesday night but still has allowed just that one run over eight innings. He has allowed just three hits in 27 at-bats (.111).
--LHP Manny Parra, who was told on Wednesday that he was being reassigned from the rotation to the bullpen, pitched the ninth inning Thursday of a 7-1 loss to the Dodgers. Parra allowed only a walk while also logging a strikeout.
--1B Prince Fielder accounted for the Brewers' only run in a 7-1 loss to the Dodgers with a fourth-inning homer, his first since Aug. 11. Fielder had hit safely in seven consecutive games, batting .346 over that stretch.
--2B Rickie Weeks was hit by two pitches, taking over the major league lead with 22 for the season. Weeks had been tied with teammate Prince Fielder, who has been hit 20 times.
BY THE NUMBERS: 7 -- Saves converted by RHP John Axford of more than three outs, through Aug. 22.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If he wants to put me in those situations, I'm all for it as long as we're honest with each other in how I'm feeling." -- Closer John Axford, who had been called on seven times by manager Ken Macha to convert saves of more than three outs.
--RHP LaTroy Hawkins (right shoulder weakness) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to Aug. 11. He will have season-ending surgery Aug. 27. Lewis Yocum will perform the arthroscopic procedure, which could be expanded if more damage is found than anticipated.
--LHP Doug Davis (left elbow tendinitis) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to July 10. He had made only one start after missing two months with inflammation of the heart lining. Davis played catch Aug. 21.
--RHP Marco Estrada (right shoulder fatigue) was recalled from the minors and placed on the Brewers' 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 1. He reported to the Brewers' training facility in Phoenix on July 21 to continue his rehab program.
--C Gregg Zaun (torn labrum in right shoulder) went on the 15-day disabled list May 21, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on Aug. 12. He had season-ending surgery June 16.