The Pittsburgh Pirates' push for their first playoff appearance in 20 years has slowed considerably.
Given the Pirates' recent history against the Milwaukee Brewers, it's far from a guarantee that will change over the weekend.Exactly one year after their last meeting at PNC Park, Pittsburgh will try to end a three-game losing streak Friday night when the Brewers go for their fourth win in a row.Back from a 2-4 trip, the Pirates (67-57) open a six-game homestand with 15 losses in 24 games. They've fallen to third in the NL Central and are in a tight battle with Atlanta, St. Louis and Los Angeles in the wild-card race."We know what's at stake every single game," catcher Rod Barajas told the Pirates' official website following Wednesday's 4-2 loss to San Diego. "We're not going to sit here and put extra pressure on ourselves and try to do more than we're capable of doing."Andrew McCutchen is capable of far more than what he's shown lately. His NL-leading batting average dropped to .349 after going 6 for 29 on the trip."I'm a lot better than where I am right now," he said. "... I know it'll change."Facing the Brewers, who have lost 14 of 15 on the road, could help. The All-Star center fielder is 12 for 24 with four homers and nine RBIs against Milwaukee this season.The Brewers, though, have held a significant edge in this divisional matchup since 2008, winning 51 of 68 after splitting six games at Miller Park this season.Starting Friday, these teams will play nine times in 28 days, including three more in Pittsburgh from Sept. 18-20."We haven't been there at all this year, which is weird," Brewers slugger Ryan Braun, the NL leader with 34 homers, told the team's official website. "We played them to start the second half, so it doesn't feel too long ago, but it's weird we haven't been to one of the teams in our division yet."Friday's scheduled starter Mike Fiers (6-6, 2.90 ERA) will get his second look at the Pirates after giving up four runs over five innings in a 6-5 loss June 3.The rookie right-hander needs a bounce-back performance after posting a 15.43 ERA while losing his last two starts. Fiers had a 1.33 ERA while winning his previous three outings."I've heard rumors about limiting my innings (a career-high 142 including the minors) and getting shut down, but I try not to worry about that," Fiers said after walking a season high-tying four in Saturday's 4-3 loss to Philadelphia. "I'm looking forward to my next start. I need to be better."So does Wandy Rodriguez (8-12, 4.00), who will try to avoid losing a career-high fourth consecutive start. The left-hander is 1/3 with a 5.06 ERA in five appearances since being acquired from Houston on July 24. He threw two innings out of the bullpen Sunday in a 6-3, 19-inning win over the Cardinals.Rodriguez is 0-6 with a 5.98 ERA in seven starts since his last win, 6-3 over Milwaukee on July 7.Braun, whose 36 RBIs at PNC Park are his most at any opposing ballpark, is 14 for 36 (.389) with four homers versus Rodriguez. Corey Hart and Aramis Ramirez are both batting .370 (17 for 46) against him.McCutchen has two hits -- including a homer -- in three at-bats against Fiers.