With all the big names in the Dodgers' rotation, one could be forgiven for overlooking Dan Haren. But the veteran has quietly given Los Angeles consistent production as a steady performer who has pitched deep into games every time out.
Haren (5-3, 3.16 ERA) has pitched into the sixth inning in all of his starts this year, and all but two of them have been quality starts.
But the right-hander has lost has past two decisions, both of which came on the road. On Thursday night, Haren will return to the friendly confines of Dodger Stadium, where he has a 2.39 ERA in four starts. He'll try and keep Los Angeles on pace in the National League West with the Giants, who beat Chicago 5-0 on Wednesday to improve their MLB-best record to 34-19 and their division lead to five games entering the Dodgers' clash on Wednesday night against Cincinnati.
Pittsburgh will turn to Gerrit Cole (4-3, 3.76 ERA) to oppose Haren. The Pirates have won four of Cole's last five starts. All of those have come against teams with winning records, except Washington, which currently sits one game under .500 entering Wednesday.
Cole will have another tough assignment against the Dodgers, who rank third in the NL in batting average (.258), on-base percentage (.326) and slugging percentage (.416).
In the first series of a 10-game road trip, the Pirates lost two of three to the Mets to fall to fourth place in the NL Central, 7 1/2 games out of first place. Now they take to the West Coast for a four-game set against the Dodgers before a three-game series in San Diego. After the Pirates leave town, Los Angeles will host the White Sox for a three-game set.
Pirates: Shortstops struggling on offense
After posting a .285/.336/.435 slash line last season, Jordy Mercer was given the Pirates' starting shortstop job over incumbent light-hitting defensive whiz Clint Barmes. But nearly two months into the season, Mercer is performing worse at the plate than Barmes, and he is currently mired in an 0-for-20 slump.
The cold streak has dropped Mercer's average to .190. Barmes, meanwhile, is slashing .213/.296/.255. Combined, Pirates shortstops rank last in the NL in batting average (.200), on-base percentage (.250) and slugging percentage (.265).
Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington recently ruled out giving third baseman/outfielder Josh Harrison (.272/.316/.457) reps at shortstop, however, saying the Mercer/Barmes duo has performed well enough on defense to merit continued support.
"Jordy Mercer and Clint Barmes have done some great things for us defensively at shortstop that, while Josh is swinging the bat better, Jordy and Clint are in our minds better defensively," Huntington said. "And that is a position that organizationally, we believe we need to make sure we handle the baseball."
Fortunately for the Pirates, they are getting production from the other half of their middle infield. On Wednesday, Neil Walker extended his hitting streak to nine games, during which he's raised his batting average 18 points to .277 and bettered his case for an All-Star Game nod.
Despite leading all NL second basemen in home runs (10) and ranking second in slugging percentage (.455), however, Walker was ranked a distant fifth in votes at the position in the first update released by MLB on Wednesday. That means he'll likely have to capture the attention of fellow players or NL All-Star manager Mike Matheny to gain his first selection to the Midsummer Classic.
Dodgers: League redeeming himself
Some Dodgers fans likely wrote off reliever Brandon League after he blew five saves last season and was battered to the tune of a 5.30 ERA. But the right-hander seems to have regained some of his mojo this season.
Since taking the loss in a 3-2 defeat to San Francisco on April 15, League hasn't given up an earned run in 15 appearances. He hasn't dominated hitters, either, striking out just 12 hitters in 21 1/3 innings over that same span.
But that's still a marked improvement from 2013, when he generated a -1.4 WAR and a 1.55 WHIP. This season, he has a 0.9 WAR and a 1.09 WHIP.
• In his return to Citi Field this week, Pirates first baseman Ike Davis went 0-for-7 with a walk and two strikeouts in three games against the Mets. That snapped a six-game hitting streak, in which Davis had gone 10-for-23 with a homer and four RBIs.
• The Dodgers boast five position players (Adrian Gonzalez, Dee Gordon, Juan Uribe, Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig) in the top five of their respective positions in voting for the All-Star Game, the most of any NL team.