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Pirates look to avoid sweep versus Giants

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Pirates can only hope to start the second half of their season a little better than they ended the first.

The Pirates (37-44) have lost two games in a row to San Francisco (32-51), one of the worst teams in the National League but one that has matched a season high with a five-game winning streak.

Despite being below .500, the Pirates are not dead in the water in the NL Central, where they trail leader Milwaukee by six games.

But it seems that when Pittsburgh is hitting, its pitching fails it. And when the pitching is holding up, the Pirates can't score.

"We left 15 on base," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle noted of his team's 2-1, 11-inning loss Saturday. "We put them out there every inning, just about. At the end of the day, it's all about scoring runs. We worked to get out there, but we weren't able to get them in."

The Giants seem to be thriving without the stress of a hint of a playoff chase.

"I just think everybody's going to play ball," pitcher Hunter Strickland said. "We're having a good time, just going out there having fun."

As it goes for a sweep Sunday at PNC Park, San Francisco is scheduled to start Jeff Samardzija (3-9 ,4.63 ERA). He is among the leaders in losses in the National League, which means he's among the most snakebit. In 11 starts since May 1, he struck out 82 and walked 11 in 73 innings.

Samardzija's run support was only 3.19 per game, among the lowest in the major leagues, before he and the Giants broke out Monday in a 9-2 victory against Colorado.

Samardzija in that game allowed two runs on six hits over 6 2/3 innings, with five strikeouts and no walks. He got a standing ovation by the home crowd when he left in the seventh. That game ended a five-game losing streak and started the current winning streak.

Samardzija, who is 4-4 with a 2.90 ERA in 23 games (12 starts) versus Pittsburgh, is part of a Giants movement to pile up some wins despite a poor record.

"We've got a lot of pride in this clubhouse, and a lot of guys want to win ballgames regardless of the situation," Samardzija said. "Every day is important. We've got to come out and have some fun and enjoy playing this game and go back to finding why we play this game."

Pittsburgh scheduled starter Trevor Williams (3-3, 4.82 ERA), who has never faced San Francisco, is coming off a no-decision Tuesday in which he probably pitched well enough to win but got outdueled by Tampa Bay's Alex Cobb.

Williams pitched seven-plus innings in the Pirates' 4-2 loss in 10 innings. He allowed two runs on six hits, walked none and matched his career high with seven strikeouts.

Williams began the season in the bullpen after losing the sweepstakes foe the final starting spot out of spring. He took over that spot, however, when Tyler Glasnow struggled and Sunday will be making his 11th start of the season.

Williams, 25, who relies on a four-pitch mix, is proving a considerably better fit in the rotation than Glasnow. In his past nine starts, Williams is 2-1 with a 3.91 ERA, giving up 22 earned runs in 50 2/3 innings.

He credits his experience joining Pittsburgh last September and watching Pirates starters Ivan Nova and Gerrit Cole.

"It's just watching the veterans do it every fifth day. It's awesome to see Nova and Gerrit go out there every fifth day and do what they do," Williams said. "There's a lot of veterans in this clubhouse. It's fun to watch them do what they do.

"The experience I got last year in September is invaluable. Nothing beats experience, whether it's learning up here and having success and failure up here. It's really anything up here. It's a little more magnified, it's a little more glorified when you have failure. The successes are also there."

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