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PIT@CIN: Wandy strikes out five in 6 2/3 solid frames

Seven consecutive losses have the Pirates slipping fast in the National League Wild Card race, though they remain very much alive heading into Saturday's clash with the Cubs.

Chicago has beaten Pittsburgh four times during the Pirates' losing streak, and the Cubs would like nothing more than to play spoiler at Wrigley Field this weekend.

Heading into Friday night's games, the Pirates sat 3 1/2 games behind the Cardinals for the NL's second Wild Card spot.

"We've gone through a period where the consistency of the execution hasn't been where it needs to be for a championship-caliber club," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "We've also gone through periods where it was above average, and the completion of tasks -- whether it be offense, defense, fielding -- were very, very solid."

The Bucs will have to find a groove quickly, as they don't have another scheduled off-day for the remainder of the season.

"[Thursday] was a good day for a day off before you start this last adventure that we're on in the regular season," Hurdle said. "I'm looking forward to it."

Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez gets the ball for the Bucs, coming off a start in which he took a one-hitter into the seventh inning in Cincinnati. Rodriguez was removed after just 89 pitches, however, and the Pirates went on to lose the game in extras.

Opposing Rodriguez will be right-hander Jason Berken, whom the Cubs acquired off waivers from the Orioles. Berken is filling in for Jeff Samardzija, who was shut down because he had reached his innings limit.

Berken, who was 5-6 with a 3.50 ERA at Triple-A Norfolk, is from Green Bay, Wis., and grew up a Cubs fan, noting his grandmother had a crush on legendary broadcaster Harry Caray.

"I've always wanted to come here," Berken said of pitching at Wrigley Field for the first time. "And my first chance to be here as a player is pretty exciting."

Pirates: Alvarez back in lineup
Third baseman Pedro Alvarez returned from a sore right wrist on Friday after missing Wednesday's game in Cincinnati. He went 1-for-4 with a pair of RBIs.

The wrist began bothering Alvarez on Wednesday afternoon, and he said it was not the cause of his 0-for-13 slump before Friday's game.

• Second baseman Neil Walker made his first appearance in 15 games on Friday. Walker, who had been bothered by lower back tightness, struck out in a pinch-hit appearance. His status for Saturday is uncertain.

Cubs: Avoiding the century mark
Manager Dale Sveum was adamant about not wanting his club to hit the 100-loss mark this season. The Cubs need to win six of their next 18 to avoid doing so.

"You never want to be part of a team that loses 100 games," Sveum said. "It's a pride thing. We know where we are now."

The Cubs haven't lost 100 games since 1966, when they went 59-103.

"Every game to them is a playoff game," Sveum said of the Pirates, "and every game to us is a playoff game in our players' minds, because they're talking about staying away from 100 losses."

Worth noting
• In 38 at-bats against Rodriguez lifetime, Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano is hitting just .105 with a .171 on-base percentage. Rodriguez has also limited shortstop Starlin Castro to a .176 mark in 17 at-bats.

• The Pirates' 92 home runs on the road this season are the most since they hit 110 in 1966.

• The current nine-game hitting streak for Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney is a career high.

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