The Chicago Cubs' offense seemed to be coming around, but it was shut out for the first time in nearly a month in the team's most recent contest.
It hasn't been able to score off Francisco Liriano, either.The left-hander looks to continue his solid run this season by helping the Pittsburgh Pirates defeat the Cubs for the sixth time in seven tries Friday at Wrigley Field.Liriano (7-3, 2.23 ERA) has allowed one run or none in seven of his 10 starts, striking out 67 in 60 2/3 innings. He beat Milwaukee on Saturday, yielding a run in six innings of a 2-1 win and registering six strikeouts for the third straight outing."We're playing pretty good baseball right now and have to continue it, so every five days I go out and try to do my job," Liriano said. "So far, so good."The left-hander's success has been a major reason the Pirates (52-32) possess baseball's best winning percentage past the halfway point of the season."We're having fun, we're playing hard and we're giving everything we have," Liriano said.Liriano has been stellar in two starts against Chicago this season, allowing two hits in seven innings in each and winning 1-0 on May 22 and 2-0 on June 7.That last matchup marked the last time the Cubs were shut out prior to Sunday's 1-0 defeat at Oakland. Alfonso Soriano and Starlin Castro recorded the team's only hits off last-minute Triple-A call-up Dan Straily.The only run came on Wellington Castillo's passed ball in the seventh off a pitch from Matt Guerrier, who came on after Travis Wood dominated for six innings."It was a shame," manager Dale Sveum said. "Six shutout innings. (Wood) pitched another great ballgame. One little passed ball."The Cubs (36-47) had averaged 6.1 runs and finished with at least 10 hits five times over their previous nine games."You have to keep battling every single day," Wood said. "Their guy pitched awesome. He kept us off balance and off the scoreboard. Have to find a way to win these games."Jeff Samardzija enters his start Friday not having received one run of support in two outings versus Pittsburgh this year and lost both. He opposed Liriano in May, giving up one run in seven innings, before allowing four runs in six frames of a 6-2 defeat to the Pirates on June 8. He's still 3-2 with a 1.66 ERA in five career starts against them.Samardzija (5-7, 3.34) is 2-0 with a 2.82 ERA over his last three outings after giving up two runs in seven innings of a 5-3, 11-inning win over Seattle on Saturday.The right-hander hopes for another solid outing against a Pittsburgh team that had won nine straight before dropping two of three to Philadelphia, including Thursday's 6-4 defeat.Andrew McCutchen drove in two runs and is batting .372 with nine RBIs over his last 11 games. Starling Marte went 2 for 4 and is hitting .356 during a nine-game hitting streak.The Pirates have won six of nine meetings with the Cubs this season, though Chicago ended a five-game skid in the series with a 4-1 win June 9. McCutchen is hitting .444 with three doubles over the last five matchups.It's unclear if Cubs center fielder Brian Bogusevic will play after leaving Thursday's contest in the third inning with a left hamstring injury. He's hitting .300 in eight games since being called up from the minors.
* Read scouting report: entering Friday, the Cubs were batting .198 against the slider (T-26th in MLB). Liriano threw it 51 times, by far his most over the last 5 seasons (next highest was 44 done twice).
* Of his 51 sliders, 35 were strikes (his most this season): 12 swing-and misses, 10 called (his most this season), 8 in play and 5 fouled off.
* Batters were 2-for-13 and accounted for 5 of his 7 K against his slider. This season he has 52 K in at-bats ending in that pitch (3rd among NL starters).