Giants in a better place as they visit Pirates

PITTSBURGH -- Things might be turning around for the San Francisco Giants, whose slide toward oblivion was interrupted by a three-game sweep of the suddenly slumping Colorado Rockies this week.

Even with that success, San Francisco (30-51) drags the second-worst record in the major leagues to PNC Park for three games against the Pittsburgh Pirates (37-42) starting Friday.

It has been a surprising and miserable season for a franchise that won World Series championships in 2010, 2012 and 2014, then lost in the NL Division Series in 2016. The hitters are producing too few runs, and the pitchers are allowing way too many.

The absence of ace left-hander Madison Bumgarner, recovering from a serious shoulder injury sustained while dirt-biking in April, was a big blow, but it is doubtful he alone could have changed the course.

"The baseball gods for some reason are testing us here with this group," manager Bruce Bochy said recently. "It's not as if they aren't coming out ready or trying. But enough is enough. It's time to get this turned around. With what's happened, I don't think anybody expected or predicted it."

Maybe the baseball gods are on break or diverting their attention elsewhere.

On Friday, the Giants will face a pitcher who has turned things around rather nicely himself.

After a miserable stretch, right-hander Gerrit Cole (6-6, 4.11 ERA) is living up to the expectations he has dealt with his entire career. In his past three starts -- all victories -- the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft has given up three runs in 20 innings, yielding 11 hits while striking out 13 and walking seven.

"I feel like I'm just continuing to move forward," said Cole, an All-Star in 2015 before a variety of injuries marred his 2016 season. "I really didn't change my process through some of the games where we got some bad results.

"I've stayed true to what I can control, and things started to swing our way. We go through ups and downs through every season, some more pronounced than others, but regardless, you're gonna do what you do and keep moving forward."

The "bad results" to which Cole refers were four successive starts during which he gave up 23 earned runs and eight home runs in 19 1/3 innings.

"The domination of the bottom of the zone wasn't there," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "The inconsistency with the breaking balls, more elevated than down. I think he readdressed his delivery, got on top of the ball, got into the legs, stayed tall on the backside, creating downhill angle.

"All the pitches have sharpened up. The breaking ball has played, the changeup has played and the fastball has played so much better. His overall command has picked up. He's been able to work through the hard period."

The Giants will counter with right-hander Johnny Cueto (5-7, 4.20 ERA). The former All-Star has pitched well in his last two outings, giving up three runs in 14 innings.

Cueto has had more success against the Pirates than against any other opponent, going 19-4 with a 2.10 ERA in 29 career starts.

Cole also thrives against the Giants: 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA in four career starts.
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