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CHC@HOU: Volstad hurls five innings of one-run ball

Their losing streak ended at seven, just barely. Now, the Pirates can try for momentum going the other way.

A second straight win for Pittsburgh in the third game of the four-game set on Sunday at Wrigley Field would give it at least a series split -- plus more positive mojo than it has had in a while prior to Saturday's 7-6 win.

The Pirates were done in by a poor second half in 2011, too, and manager Clint Hurdle acknowledges that some of last year's problems resemble this year's.

"Any time a team doesn't win, the inconsistencies are pretty much the same," Hurdle said. "Do I see a commitment level that's different? Yes. Do I see a focus that's different? Yes. Do I see a preparation that's different? Yes. But we're, unfortunately, getting the same result. This is part of what we're having to push through and learn from. The game teaches you valuable lessons if you pay attention, and everybody out there -- the staff, myself -- is getting more experience lessons for whatever reasons. I truly believe that if you pay attention to your past, it will prepare you for your future."

The Cubs, meanwhile, are playing pretty good ball. They've still won six of eight, and nearly came back on Saturday. They plated one in the eighth and then two in the ninth, before ending the game with the bases left loaded. This recent run of success followed a six-game losing streak to start the month.

Pirates lefty Jeff Locke, who's scheduled to make his seventh career big league start on Sunday, is the fifth southpaw the Cubs have seen in their last six games. The Cubs are 5-4 in their last nine against lefties, but saw just one lefty starter in a long stretch last month that covered 21 games.

Locke saw the Cubs in his last start, a week ago Sunday. He threw well in a no-decision, allowing two solo home runs (Josh Vitters and Anthony Recker) and seven hits, while recording six strikeouts and no walks over six innings. Starlin Castro and Alfonso Soriano went 0-for-6.

"A real professional outing by Jeff," Hurdle said. "Just a couple of balls he tried to get in, but left a little out there."

Chicago has righty Chris Volstad on the hill. His season ERA, 5.99, isn't pretty, but he has a 4.08 ERA in his last eight starts. Run support hasn't been great for him: The Cubs have scored one run or fewer while he's been on the mound in nine of his 17 starts.

"I feel like ever since I've come back, I've been a different pitcher," Volstad said of his Aug. 4 return from Triple-A Iowa.

If the Pirates can get at least four runs up, they're in good shape. They're 58-21 when scoring four or more this season.

Pirates: Walker, Snider return on Saturday
• Neil Walker went 0-for-5 and Travis Snider went 1-for-5 with an RBI in Saturday's 7-6 win over the Cubs. While it was a less than stellar day for both, their presence is what matters going forward.

Walker hadn't started since Aug. 26 because of back tightness, while Snider missed four games because of right hamstring discomfort.

Cubs: Castro trying to kick the kick
• Cubs manager Dale Sveum thinks Starlin Castro could be even better if he stops using a leg kick during his swing.

"It's one of those things, you'd like to see him quiet all of that down," Sveum said on Saturday. "Because of the hand-eye coordination he has, I think those things could happen more often without all the leg kick that he has and another little hand gesture in there that causes some inconsistencies."

Castro went 2-for-4 with a double on Saturday.

Worth noting
• The Pirates are 1-4 in a stretch that has them playing 14 of 17 games away from home. The Cubs are 18-63 when their opponent scores first.

• Saturday's win drew the Pirates to within two games of the Cardinals and Dodgers in the race for the final National League Wild Card berth. Comments