Although he leads the majors in wins and the NL in ERA, Gerrit Cole is going to have to pick things up to keep Pittsburgh's recent pitching pace going.
Of the five runs allowed by 11 Pirates pitchers in the last seven games, Cole is responsible for two. That outing, however, was understandably good enough for a victory, positioning him to win a sixth straight start and extend the club's winning streak to eight Thursday night in Chicago against the sliding White Sox.
After Wednesday's 3-2 win in Chicago, the Pirates (38-27) have a 0.52 ERA on their second seven-game winning streak during a 20-5 stretch. They last won eight in a row on a nine-game streak in June 2013 and are on the cusp of their first series win at U.S. Cellular Field after going 3-9 there in four series prior to Wednesday.
The team ERA is down to 2.73 - a mark Pittsburgh hasn't posted 65-plus games into a season since Sept. 22, 1968.
"It's always strange to me when our pitchers give up a run," infielder Josh Harrison said after the club's scoreless innings streak ended at 35.
Cole (10-2, 1.71 ERA) is seeking six straight wins in a single season for the first time, a feat teammate A.J. Burnett beat him to from May 7-June 2.
Cole won six in a row from Sept. 9, 2013-April 10, 2014, but this stretch has been the most dominant of his career with a 0.76 ERA and 5-0 record. The right-hander became the first pitcher in the majors to get to 10 wins after allowing two runs - one earned - and five hits in six innings of Saturday's 4-3 victory over Philadelphia.
That came at home, but he's been even better on the road at 5-1 with a 1.58 ERA and 17 straight innings without allowing an earned run. In AL parks, he's won each of his three career starts with a 2.33 ERA, though he's never faced the White Sox.
Emilio Bonifacio, Melky Cabrera, Adam Eaton, Adam LaRoche and Geovany Soto are the only Chicago players to face Cole, and they've gone a combined 2 for 16.
That's in line with the offense the White Sox have been producing lately. Chicago (28-36) has dropped six straight and scored two runs with 10 hits in the last three.
The White Sox counter with Jeff Samardzija, who has allowed more earned runs in his last three starts (18) than Cole has all season (16).
Samardzija (4-4, 4.84) hasn't won in his last four starts, going 0-2 with a 6.15 ERA. The right-hander gave up three runs and six hits in seven innings of Saturday's 5-4 loss in Tampa Bay but avoided the decision. He's struggled to string consistent starts together, though he seemed to hone in on what he needs to do after his last outing.
"The ball was down. That was the biggest difference from the last time out to this time, especially later in the game," Samardzija told MLB's official website. "We were out over the plate and up, and I think we stayed down and off the plate today. I got some ground-ball outs, which is always key for me."
His two starts against the NL since switching leagues last year have been awful, resulting in an 0-1 mark and 11.15 ERA. Samardzija is 3-4 with a 2.43 ERA in nine starts against the Pirates, though all of the losses have come over a six-start winless streak.
Andrew McCutchen is 12 for 29 (.414) against him, but Pedro Alvarez (5 for 27), Neil Walker (5 for 25) and Jordy Mercer (0 for 10) have struggled.