The Pittsburgh Pirates retained sole possession of the top wild card Saturday night by beating the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, and they will trot out their ace a day later to try to add some cushion.
Gerrit Cole takes the mound Sunday as the Pirates seek a series win against the Los Angeles Dodgers to open their final road trip.
Pittsburgh (88-60) had its lead over Chicago trimmed to a half-game with the Cubs' 5-4 victory over St. Louis early on Saturday, but the Pirates won 3-2 to hand Clayton Kershaw his first loss since June 27 and stay a game ahead.
Andrew McCutchen doubled home two runs in the third and Aramis Ramirez doubled in Gregory Polanco in the eighth, the third run charged to Kershaw. Mark Melancon closed the door for his club-record 47th save.
"It definitely wasn't deflating," manager Clint Hurdle told MLB's official website after his team moved within four games of the NL Central-leading Cardinals, whom the Pirates face Sept. 28-30 after finishing off their 10-game road swing in Chicago.
They should also get a lift from Cole (16-8, 2.60 ERA), who will take the mound without having to worry about Cy Young candidates Zack Greinke and Kershaw. Pittsburgh's ace looks to improve on his 9-2 record and 3.05 career ERA in September while trying to become the fourth NL pitcher with at least 17 wins.
The right-hander has pitched into the seventh inning in five of his last six starts, though he allowed four runs in 6 1-3 innings while not factoring in the decision of a 5-4 win over the Cubs on Tuesday. He has only allowed one home run in 54 2-3 innings over his last nine starts overall and has given up just two over 95 1-3 this season on the road.
Cole has opposed Los Angeles three times in his career, allowing three runs in each on the way to a 2-0 record and 4.50 ERA. He limited the Dodgers to four hits in six innings in a 5-4 Pittsburgh win on Aug. 7.
Los Angeles (85-62) has won five of seven and holds a comfortable 8 1/2-game lead in the NL West as it hands the ball to Mike Bolsinger, who is taking Mat Latos' spot in the rotation.
Bolsinger (6-3, 3.13) will make his 19th start and third since getting called up from Triple-A Oklahoma City on Sept. 4. He is 1-0 since his promotion despite a 6.23 ERA in victories over San Diego and Arizona.
The right-hander matched the shortest start of his career while allowing three runs in 3 2-3 innings of a 9-5 win over the Diamondbacks on Sept. 12, and he seemed to pinpoint his troubles.
"(Against the Padres) I gave up two home runs with offspeed pitches," Bolsinger told MLB's official website, "...This game five or six straight hits on offspeed pitches, and that's my bread and butter, the curve and slider, it's what I need to work on."
The Pirates have won four of five against the Dodgers this season and nine of 12 the last two years.