The Pirates have been playing inspired baseball as of late, winning the first two in their series against the Cubs to give them 10 victories in 12 games. Their pitchers lead the Majors in ERA and opponents' batting average in May, including a shutout Wednesday.
Pittsburgh goes for the sweep against Chicago on Thursday afternoon at PNC Park, sporting a record that sits a season-best 10 games above .500. Manager Clint Hurdle has witnessed late-season collapses the past two years, but he likes the fighting mentality of a club that leads the Majors in comeback wins and has triumphed in five one-run games on its current homestand.
"Any good team I've been on, or been a part of, has that [fighting] characteristic," Hurdle said. "You play the game. You finish the game. If you're behind, let's knock the starter out. If it's a significant reliever, let's pound pitches on this guy so he can't pitch tomorrow.
"That's the mentality your team has to take when you're not winning games. Different ways you can shoot body blows, get them to lower their arms, then maybe knock them out later in the series. I do believe that it's a better understanding of that than we've had my first year or two."
On Thursday, Hurdle will turn to Jeanmar Gomez, who is making his fifth start since joining the rotation May 1. The 25-year-old right-hander's time in that role could be winding down, with the likes of Charlie Morton and Jeff Karstens drawing close to returning.
"We've got a guy who we've penciled in to fifth place in Jeanmar Gomez who's done a very professional job," Hurdle said. "We'll see what happens."
As a starter, Gomez is 1-0 with a 2.89 ERA across 18 2/3 innings. He has yet to top five innings in a start, with the club remaining cautious about his workload.
Gomez will oppose righty Edwin Jackson (1-6, 5.76 ERA), who is still trying to get his first season with the Cubs turned around. He took a step forward Friday in New York, holding the Mets to three runs on seven hits in 6 2/3 innings in a 3-2 loss.
"I've been feeling pretty good mechanically, been able to go out and get in a rhythm early," Jackson said. "Regardless how I feel, regardless how I look, regardless how I pitch, the objective is to come out and win the game."
Cubs: Barney, Sveum have productive conversation
• After Darwin Barney went 0-for-3 on May 7 to drop to 0-for-20 in the month, he went to manager Dale Sveum's apartment and talked hitting -- and baseball in general -- into the wee hours of the morning. The next day, the two took the field early for extra batting practice.
In 11 games since, the Cubs' second baseman is 13-for-41 (.317) with four doubles, a triple and a home run. That includes a 4-for-4 effort Tuesday.
"Some of the adjustments he's made have obviously been paying off with his mindset and aggressiveness," Sveum said. "That's all you ask for is understand what hitting is really all about, and your job is to hit the ball hard and not care where the ball goes. Your job is to use the whole field and not try to use one piece of it."
• Right-hander Rafael Dolis joined the bullpen Wednesday for his third stint with the Cubs this season. He replaces Shawn Camp, who was placed on the disabled list with a sprained right big toe.
Pirates: Big fly Bucs
Before a quiet game Wednesday, the Pirates had homered in 18 of their past 22 contests, pushing them to fifth in the National League for the season.
"I think there's potential for power," Hurdle said. "How it plays out, time will tell. Home runs are thrown -- we were going through a period where we were trying to create. It doesn't work that way."
Despite the increased power, Pittsburgh still ranks in the bottom half of the NL in batting average, OPS and runs scored.
"What I look for on offense is runs scored and runs driven in," Hurdle said. "Home runs catch everyone's attention. And I get it. But at the end of the day, it's about driving in runs. It's still about being a productive at-bat. But when you have guys that can leave the ballpark in one swing, it's nice to have. Most of the prolific offense can do that with one swing of the bat."
• Jackson sports a 3.22 ERA in three road starts, compared with 7.81 in five home outings. He held the Pirates to two runs in five innings in his season-debut at PNC Park and owns a 3.20 ERA in four career outings there.
• Outfielders David DeJesus (0-for-4) and Ryan Sweeney (2-for-3) are the only Cubs with experience against Gomez.