Thanks in part to his outstanding work last September, Gerrit Cole became one of the big reasons the Pittsburgh Pirates ended their lengthy playoff drought.
Now the young right-hander is looking to contribute to another playoff march in the final month of this season.
As Cole looks to win a season-best third consecutive start, the Pirates will try to move closer to back-to-back playoff berths with a fourth straight victory Thursday night against the visiting Boston Red Sox.
Cole (9-5, 3.92 ERA) can do his part by recapturing his form from last September, when he went 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA in five starts to help Pittsburgh reach the postseason for the first time in 21 years.
While he hasn't been nearly as dominant through three outings this month, the NL's 2013 September rookie of the month has posted back-to-back quality starts while striking out 14 to win both times.
He's now 6-1 with a 3.04 ERA and 57 strikeouts over 50 1-3 innings in eight career starts in September.
"I think games definitely become more intense at this time," Cole told MLB's official website. "But it's just as easy to get too caught up in that. It's still about making pitches."
The 24-year-old has gone 2-1 with a 4.31 ERA in his last five starts while working his way back from a lat injury that sidelined him for a month and a half. He allowed three runs over six innings in Friday's 7-3 home win over the Chicago Cubs.
A strong outing could help the Pirates add to their 2 1/2-game wild-card advantage following Wednesday's 9-1 victory. Pittsburgh (81-70), which has won 10 of 12, can sweep Boston (66-86) for the first time in four regular-season series.
Cole has never faced the Red Sox, but he's 2-0 with a 2.63 ERA in his last four outings at PNC Park. The Pirates also have won eight of 10 at home when he starts.
Allen Craig has gone hitless in six career at-bats when facing Cole and is batting .123 with two homers and six RBIs in his last 40 games dating to his time with St. Louis.
The Red Sox have averaged 2.8 runs and hit .213 with only five homers while dropping seven of 10. Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo couldn't provide a boost in his much-anticipated debut Wednesday, going 1 for 4.
"Obviously I'd like a better outcome in terms of winning the game," Castillo said. "But I was pretty satisfied with my overall approach and the way I stepped in."
Boston has totaled one run in this series and scored only 19 while losing Brandon Workman's last 10 starts.
Workman (1-9, 5.27) is 0-9 with a 6.99 ERA over his last 10 outings, including nine starts. The right-hander gave up six runs, five earned, over three innings in last Wednesday's 10-6 home loss to Baltimore.
"I still believe in myself 100 percent," Workman said. "That doesn't change after a bad outing or a couple of bad outings."
Pittsburgh, however, has been hot offensively, averaging 5.8 runs and hitting .308 with 15 home runs in its last 12 games.
Clint Barmes had three hits Wednesday, while Gregory Polanco, Neil Walker and Ike Davis homered. Walker is 10 for 22 with two homers, three doubles and six RBIs in his last six games.