Entering Monday night's game at Chase Field between Pittsburgh and Arizona, the two clubs are among the National League's worst clubs at the plate with runners in scoring position. The D-backs' team OPS with men in scoring position is a meager .595 -- 15th in the NL -- while the Pirates' is even worse at .400.
They will look to improve those numbers over their upcoming three-game series, with lefties Erik Bedard and Joe Saunders set to kick things off Monday night.
"We know how they're getting us out. We're not very good at making the adjustment right now, but we'll get better, just like last year," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "The things that we see that will help us win the close games, we'll get better."
At least Arizona can say it's had opportunities with runners in scoring position -- its 91 at-bats in those situations are tied for the third-most in the NL. The Pirates, meanwhile, have only had 51 at-bats with men in scoring position.
Pittsburgh hopes that having Casey McGehee back in the lineup, most likely at first base, against Saunders will help its production. McGehee has started the year by going 6-for-20 at the plate, and he's hoping to leave his disappointing 2011 well behind him.
"We like everything we've seen. It's hard not to have him in the lineup, out on the field," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's made his commitment to put 2011 behind him, and seems on track to doing that. He plays with an edge. I like him a lot."
Any advantage the Pirates can gain might be enough, given how close the D-backs have been playing things to start the year. Their 5-2 win over the Rockies on Sunday was practically a laugher by their early season standards. Entering the series finale in Denver, Arizona had played six one-run games and two two-run contests in their first eight.
That's part of the reason Gibson has had to emphasize doing the little things, something that hasn't exactly been the club's strength so far. Gerardo Parra was picked off at second base on Saturday, and pitcher Josh Collmenter forgot to cover first base. When a team is struggling to drive in runners in scoring position like the D-backs are, the significance of those mistakes is multiplied.
"That's why it's important to take care of the things we can take care of," Gibson said. "We shouldn't miss signs, we shouldn't get picked off second, we shouldn't not cover first. That's really pretty easy to correct and we'll do better than that."
Pittsburgh also has been playing in tight games -- it contested four straight one-run games to start the year for the first time in club history, with six of its first eight games decided by only one run.
Pirates: Bedard looking to avoid 0-3 start
Bedard is 0-2 for the second year in a row, but fortunately for him, that's about the only thing similar to the way he started his 2011 season. He had a 9.00 ERA with the Mariners after two starts a year ago, compared to a tough-luck 2.25 ERA now. He went on to pile up four straight losses to begin the year -- the only time in his career he was winless in his first three starts -- and he's hoping to avoid doing that again.
Bedard wasn't quite as sharp in his second outing, giving up two runs on eight hits and a walk in five innings on Wednesday, but Hurdle stressed that he hasn't done anything to deserve his winless start.
"It's not like the game got away from [Bedard]," Hurdle said. "He wasn't as crisp as the first time, but he still competed well. But his breaking ball wasn't as sharp."
The Pirates will face Saunders, a lefty, followed by right-handers Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson. That will be the first time this season Pittsburgh has faced same-handed starting pitchers on consecutive days, having faced alternating opposing starters over its first nine games.
D-backs: Saunders facing Bucs for first time since '07
Coming off an excellent season debut against the Padres on Wednesday afternoon, Saunders will meet the Pirates for the first time since June 22, 2007. The lefty was with the Angels then, and he gave up four runs on seven hits in a no-decision.
He tossed seven shutout innings in his most recent outing, allowing four hits and walking two with four strikeouts, but he left the game with a no-decision in an eventual 2-1 loss.
"Joe was outstanding," Miguel Montero said Wednesday. "He mixed pitches, he worked and he battled."
After a 2-for-4 performance on Sunday, Chris Young has reached base via hit or walk in all nine games this season.
The Pirates went 1-2 in Phoenix last year and are 18-32 all time in Arizona. Their last series victory in Phoenix came in 2005, when they took three of four from May 5-8.
The D-backs are six games into a stretch of 17 games in 17 days, including this 10-game homestand against the Pirates, Braves and Phillies. The club has two longer stretches this season -- 21 games in 21 days after the All-Star break and 23 games in 23 days from Aug. 14-Sept. 5.