Gregory Polanco is providing a big impact at the top of the order, Andrew McCutchen has been arguably the NL's best player this month and the Pittsburgh Pirates' offense is humming right along.
That wasn't the case when they faced the New York Mets' Jacob deGrom one month ago.
Polanco wasn't around then but he made his presence felt in the opener of this four-game series, which continues Friday night at PNC Park with the Mets rookie hoping to successfully build on his best start since arriving in the majors.
One of baseball's worst offenses in April, the Pirates (40-39) have been anything but over the past two months. They lead the majors with a .351 on-base percentage since May 1 and have averaged 4.88 runs in June, sixth in baseball and a run more than they put up per game a month ago.
McCutchen has certainly done his part, driving in 25 runs in 24 June games and leading the NL in slugging percentage (.711) this month after doubling Thursday. But the big story in the opener was Polanco, whose three-run homer in the fifth lifted Pittsburgh to a 5-2 win.
Mets manager Terry Collins was sufficiently impressed after his first look at the 22-year-old. The Pirates are 10-6 since Polanco, who raised his average to .338, came up June 10.
"He's got a lot of tools, a lot of skills," Collins said. "I watched him in batting practice and you see he had big power, then he showed it in the game. He's very impressive."
The Pirates' right fielder wasn't around when deGrom (1-4, 3.75 ERA) made his third major league start May 26. The right-hander held Pittsburgh scoreless for 6 2-3 innings despite five walks, but the bullpen couldn't hang onto his 2-0 lead in a 5-3 loss.
He had to wait until his eighth outing to pick up his first win, but he was quite impressive in doing so. DeGrom held the Marlins to five hits over seven innings Saturday, striking out seven, in a 4-0 victory at Miami.
"He has the desire to pitch deep into a game," third baseman David Wright, who is not in the lineup Friday because of a sore left shoulder, told MLB's official website. "It's not good enough for him to just go five (innings) or get a quality start. For him it's going out, pitching deeper into games, pounding the strike zone. And he did that today."
Brandon Cumpton (3-2, 4.93) opposed deGrom in last month's meeting, holding the Mets (36-43) to two runs - one earned - in six innings, and he'll get the ball again Friday.
Cumpton is also coming off what was unquestionably his best start of the season. The right-hander held the Cubs to two hits over seven scoreless innings Sunday in a 2-1 win at Wrigley Field.
Cumpton, who is considered a rookie after pitching just 30 2-3 innings last season, is 3-0 with a 3.09 ERA in four June starts after allowing 10 runs over 3 2-3 in his final May outing.
"Rookie or whatever you call it, this dude, he comes in every time and he battles," utilityman Josh Harrison said. "He is a warrior. He is out there and he is going to grind. He does just that."
Harrison made his second straight start in left field Thursday as Starling Marte again sat out with a jammed right middle finger. It's unclear if he'll return Friday.
Mets center fielder Juan Lagares went 1 for 4 in the opener, his first game in 25 days due to a ribcage injury.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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