After taking over the top spot in the NL Central for the first time since July, the Pittsburgh Pirates hope to end their losing streak against the Milwaukee Brewers with Wandy Rodriguez to the mound.
That won't be easy considering their track record against Yovani Gallardo.
The Brewers look for an eighth straight win over Pittsburgh in Monday's opener as they try to improve to 14-1 in Gallardo's starting career against the Pirates.
Following a 1-5 start, the Pirates (15-10) have played like a completely different club while reaching 15 wins in April for the first time since 1992.
They rolled to a 9-0 victory at St. Louis on Sunday for their ninth win in 12 games, surpassing the Cardinals for first place.
"It helps us believe we have the team we think we have,' said catcher Russell Martin, who had two of the team's four homers Sunday. "The key is to be consistent and do it every day, and we've been doing it every day.'
The Pirates have been red-hot despite a 1-for-22 slump from center fielder Andrew McCutchen, whose average has dropped to .216. McCutchen is 7 for 24 against Gallardo, with two doubles and a home run.
Pittsburgh will give the ball to Rodriguez (2-0, 1.66 ERA) as it attempts to snap a four-game skid in Milwaukee and improve to 6-2 on a 10-game road trip.
After allowing just one earned run over 16 innings in his first three starts, Rodriguez didn't have his best stuff on Wednesday when he gave up his first two homers and three runs over 5 2-3 innings in a 5-3 win at Philadelphia.
"He wasn't as sharp as the last two times,' manager Clint Hurdle said. "The cold weather was gone and the ball was traveling well. He gave us what we needed.'
Rodriguez is 3-7 with a 5.88 ERA in 12 career starts at Miller Park, but he's 1-1 with a 2.66 ERA over his last three in Milwaukee. This will be his first with the Pirates.
The Brewers (12-11) had plenty of trouble with another left-hander on Sunday. They managed only four hits and struck out 12 times against Clayton Kershaw in a 2-0 loss in Los Angeles.
After dropping three of four to close out their six-game road trip, they return home looking to extend a six-game winning streak at Miller Park in the opener of a nine-game stay.
Perhaps Gallardo (2-1, 4.97) can help them get off to a good start. Milwaukee is 13-1 in games he's started against Pittsburgh, and the right-hander is 9-1 with a 2.35 ERA in those outings.
Gallardo had a 6.61 ERA through three starts in 2013, but won his second straight Tuesday at San Diego after holding the Padres to three runs in 6 2-3 innings. He did, however, walk five after allowing only four free passes in his first four starts.
"It was a struggle,' manager Ron Roenicke said. "His command, ball-strike ratio in the first three innings - that wasn't him. But I was glad to see somewhere in there that he got it together. If he can keep us in ballgames and win ballgames when he's struggling it's going to be a nice thing when he gets going.'
Gallardo has been tough on Pedro Alvarez (0 for 12, seven strikeouts) and Clint Barmes (1 for 15), while Gaby Sanchez has six hits - including a homer - in 16 at_bats.
Martin, who has doubled and walked twice in three plate appearances against Gallardo, has been heating up after a poor start. He has a .500 on-base percentage, five homers and four doubles in his last 10 games.
Milwaukee star Ryan Braun has batted .359 with five doubles and four home runs in 39 career at_bats against Rodriguez.
The Associated Press News Service
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