Behind a string of outstanding performances from their red-hot rotation, the suddenly surging Pittsburgh Pirates are on the verge of their longest home winning streak since July.
Gerrit Cole began the run with arguably the best start of his young career, an effort he'll try to build on against the Miami Marlins on Wednesday night when the Pirates go after their sixth straight victory.
Following a 1-6 stretch, Pittsburgh starters have posted a 1.06 ERA during a winning streak that's given the club a chance to move two games over .500 for the first time since sitting 12-10 on April 29.
Jeff Locke provided the latest solid effort Tuesday, pitching 5 2-3 scoreless innings in a 5-1 win. Neil Walker hit a two-run homer while Josh Harrison and Jung Ho Kang added two hits apiece.
''Everybody has been throwing the ball so well,'' Locke said. ''You never want to feel like the weakest link.''
With Cole (6-2, 2.05 ERA) taking the ball in the finale, the Pirates (23-22) hope to wrap up this eight-game homestand with their first six-game winning streak at PNC Park since July 4-20.
The right-hander fell two outs shy of his first complete game Friday, when he allowed one unearned run and struck out a season-high 10 over 8 1-3 innings in a 4-1 win over the New York Mets.
"It's the best performance I've seen him throw so far," catcher Chris Stewart, who came to Pittsburgh in a trade before the 2014 season. "He just keeps getting better and better. The sky's the limit for him right now."
Cole has limited opponents to two runs or fewer in seven of his last eight starts. He's 10-2 with a 2.40 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 14 starts dating back to Sept. 7 and is 10-2 with a 2.77 ERA over his last 17 at PNC Park.
The 24-year-old hasn't had great success against the Marlins (18-29), going 0-1 with a 5.25 ERA in two starts.
Giancarlo Stanton has a home run and two doubles in five at-bats when facing Cole, while Martin Prado is 2 for 3 and Christian Yelich is 2 for 5 with a homer. Stanton is 3 for 6 with a home run and a double in this series, Prado is batting .300 over a nine-game hitting streak and Yelich is 5 for 12 in his last three.
The Marlins, though, are batting just .180 with runners in scoring position while averaging 2.6 runs during a 3-13 stretch.
With Jose Fernandez, Henderson Alvarez, Jarred Cosart and Mat Latos injured, Miami is turning to reliever Brad Hand (0-1, 5.48) to fill in with his first start of the season. The left-hander has gone 4-18 with a 4.58 ERA in 31 career starts.
Hand didn't get a decision in his lone start against the Pirates on Aug. 5, allowing two runs in 6 1-3 innings in a 6-3 win. Jordy Mercer has gone 2 for 3 with a double off him, while Sean Rodriguez has a home run in two at-bats.
Pittsburgh's offense has come to life, hitting .323 with seven homers while averaging 6.5 runs over the last four games.
Kang is batting .406 during an eight-game hitting streak, though Andrew McCutchen is 1 for 8 in this series after going 9 for 15 with three home runs over his previous four.