Francisco Liriano has turned in quality start after quality start this season, but his last outing may have been his best, despite taking the loss.
Liriano struck out 11, allowed four hits and one run -- a result of two infield singles -- over six innings in a 2-0 loss to the Reds. The left-hander, who is 3-2 with a 2.17 ERA, will have to be just as good Friday against Travis Wood and the Cubs in Chicago.
"Yeah, we'll go there," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said when asked if that was Liriano's best start to date. "But wow, he was really good. He competes out there."
Wood (5-3, 2.75 ERA) allowed two runs on five hits over six innings in his last start, an 8-3 win over the White Sox -- a victory aided by Wood's grand slam. The lefty has a 2.44 ERA in seven home starts this season.
Cubs pitchers are no strangers to helping themselves, as they have 20 RBIs this season. The Pirates, in contrast, have just one.
"We take pride in our hitting and being able to help ourselves out," Wood said after his last start. "We just want to be able to handle the bat so we're not a dead out. We can try to go out there and eventually help ourselves out and get something going."
Pirates: Barmes, the day-ripper
The Pirates played the first of four straight day games Wednesday, and they are 8-4 during road day games this season.
Clint Barmes has thrived in the daylight this season. The shortstop is hitting a team-high .294, and he has both of his home runs and seven of his 10 RBIs in day games.
• Wandy Rodriguez left his start in the first inning Wednesday with tightness in his left forearm.
Cubs: Middle relievers struggling
The Cubs had problems the last two days bridging the gap from the starter to closer Kevin Gregg.
Albert Pujols beat the Cubs on Tuesday, hitting a two-run homer in the eighth off Carlos Villanueva. Then on Wednesday with a one-run lead, James Russell served up a solo homer to Mark Trumbo in the bottom of the eighth.
"There's no doubt I think about it a lot," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "The bottom line is how to get to Gregg after the sixth inning."
• Wood is 4-4 with a 3.72 ERA in eight career outings against the Pirates. He's walked 14 and struck out 33 in 36 1/3 innings.
• The Pirates have now lost three straight games, their longest skid since early April, when they opened the season 1-5. They were swept for just the second time this season after dropping three to the Braves.