With his team struggling offensively during its longest losing streak since the opening weeks of the season, Pittsburgh Pirates manager John Russell said Sunday that the club would snap out of its funk.
Since then, the Pirates have made their skipper look like a genius.The Pirates hope to continue their hot hitting and get their fifth straight win Friday night when they continue a four-game series against the struggling San Diego Padres at PNC Park.Pittsburgh (48-54) totaled 15 runs and batted .224 during a five-game skid from July 13-20, the team's longest losing streak since it dropped a season-high six straight from April 15-21.After a particularly disheartening 11-3 loss to Colorado on Sunday, Russell said, "It's unfortunate we aren't scoring or hitting. We'll come out of it."The Pirates began delivering immediately, compiling 18 hits in a 9-3 win over Houston on Monday. They went on to score eight runs in each of their next two games to complete a sweep of the Astros before routing the Padres 9-1 on Thursday night."The offense has never been in question," catcher Ryan Doumit told the Pirates' official Web site after lifting his batting average to .325 with a 2-for-4 effort. "We feel like we can hit anybody."Pittsburgh is averaging 8.5 runs and batting .355 during the four-game win streak, its longest since winning a season-high six straight from May 6-12."It definitely picks the spirits up," said outfielder Jason Bay, who's 8-for-17 with three home runs and seven RBIs during the run.The Padres (38-65) could use a similar boost after losing for the ninth time in 10 games to fall to 7-26 since June 15. They didn't get saddled with their 65th loss until Sept. 9 last season.San Diego, which is 14-8 all-time at PNC Park, hopes to rebound against Pittsburgh's Friday starter Zach Duke (4-7, 4.92 ERA). The left-hander had a 3.88 ERA after his first start of July, but has been tagged for 19 earned runs in 13 1-3 innings spanning his last three outings. Though he retired the first 10 batters he faced Sunday, Duke ended up yielding a career-high nine runs in five innings of Pittsburgh's 11-3 loss to Colorado."It's not a mystery," Duke said. "I was making very good pitches there the first three innings, and then I started leaving the ball up. You can't do that against good hitters like that.""I'm just going to focus on being better next time and being more locked in -- just repeating what was working."Duke is 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA in two career starts against the Padres, who will counter with Cha Seung Baek (2-5, 4.94). The right-hander held St. Louis to two runs in 6 1-3 innings Sunday before San Diego's bullpen faltered in the 9-5 loss.Baek, who's 2-0 with a 3.41 ERA in 10 road games -- three starts -- this season, is making his first career start against the Pirates.