Even before the first pitch of the series, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle knew three games against the Rockies could turn into a trap series after his team took four of five in a critical divisional set with the Cardinals.
The Rockies showed Hurdle's forewarning could come true, taking the opener Friday night to rescue them from a four-game losing streak that had their playoff hopes fading into the rearview mirror.
They have another chance to gain ground in the National League West and Wild Card races Saturday.
"This team can jump up and bite you," said Hurdle, who managed the Rockies from 2002-09. "We're going to face the three best starters they have, and they had three starters in the NL lineup for the All-Star Game. They can be electric offensively. If [Carlos Gonzalez] is not available, that's something we'll try to capitalize on."
But the Pirates could not have picked a better starter for Saturday's game than Francisco Liriano to help avoid another letdown.
Liriano continues to be one of the biggest surprises for the Pirates, recovering from an ugly start to the second half by allowing just one run and six hits over his past two outings. The southpaw has surrendered one or no earned runs in 10 of his 15 starts this year.
Colorado's lineup should be closer to full strength, as Gonzalez entered Friday's game as a late substitute and took his first at-bat since Wednesday, when he strained his right middle finger.
Opposite Liriano, fellow lefty Jorge De La Rosa will look to rebound from one of his toughest outings of the year. De La Rosa gave up five runs in five innings in a 9-8 loss to the Braves on Monday, the first of four Rockies losses in Atlanta.
"It was one of those games," De La Rosa said afterward. "I tried to compete all game, but I didn't have good results. They scored a lot of runs for me, but I didn't do my job."
A singular bright spot in an otherwise trying start was that De La Rosa said he was not bothered by a nagging thumb injury that had pained him for more than a month.
Rockies: Dickerson finds his groove
When Rockies manager Walt Weiss slotted Corey Dickerson into the three-hole Friday for the first time in his Major League career, it was a clear sign of his marked offensive improvement.
Dickerson tore the cover off the ball in Triple-A, but struggled to translate that success to the Majors after his late June callup, hitting .212 and driving in just two runs in the first 15 games of his big league career. But since returning to the Rockies on July 27, Dickerson has fared much better, going 7-for-16 (.438) with a homer and two RBIs in seven games.
He finished 2-for-4 with two singles and a run scored Friday, giving him a hit in three consecutive games.
Pirates: Making every hit count
The Pirates smacked four doubles, including two from second baseman Neil Walker, in Friday night's loss to extend their streak of games with an extra-base hit to 49.
That beat out the team's previous season high of 48 games with at least one extra-base hit, which stretched from April 7 to May 29. While pitching has carried Pittsburgh to the top of the NL Central, its offense has an extra-base hit in 106 of 109 games this year.
Center fielder Andrew McCutchen has been a key piece of that offensive surge, responsible for one double Friday and now hitting .358 with 20 RBIs in his last 25 home games.
• While his numbers are slightly better at Coors Field, De La Rosa is 4-4 with a 3.67 ERA on the road this season.
• With a lefty on the mound, Pirates outfielder Jose Tabata should return to the Pirates' lineup Saturday. Tabata is just 3-for-35 over his last 16 games.
Ian McCue is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.