While they're getting some solid performances on the mound, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been let down by a slumping offense.
The Pirates hope to shake off a disappointing homestand and get back on track at the plate Thursday night when they open a four-game set at Citi Field against a New York Mets team having its own problems offensively.Following a promising 14-5 stretch in April, Pittsburgh (18-15) lost five of its last eight games.Seattle ace Felix Hernandez added to the Pirates' offensive woes Wednesday, allowing one run in eight innings in a 2-1 victory that earned the Mariners a two-game split.Starling Marte had two hits and Andrew McCutchen had an RBI single, but Pittsburgh went 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position and is 4 for 38 in those situations over its last five games."It just seems that we've got to find a better answer," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Maybe it's our mindset but we're getting pitched tough. It's not like it's chopped liver we've been facing."As their starters posted a 2.70 ERA on the 2/3 homestand, the Pirates provided them only 12 runs of support. They lost three of the final four games while managing no more than seven hits in any of them and drawing a combined five walks.It's been a similar struggle for the Mets (13-17), who scored one run over six innings for starter Jeremy Hefner in a 6-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday.New York has dropped eight of 11 while batting .193, including 72 strikeouts over the last seven."Sometimes it looks like we're pressing," manager Terry Collins told the league's official website. "Whether we are or not, again, it just looks like it. We've certainly got to relax and put better swings on the ball."It might not get easier for Collins' club against Pittsburgh left-hander Jeff Locke in the opener. The Mets are hitting .205 with five homers and 20 RBIs in their last 13 games versus southpaws.Locke (3-1, 3.21 ERA) had given the Pirates rotation a lift with 13 shutout innings in consecutive road starts, winning both, before allowing four runs over five innings in a 5-4 home loss to Washington on Saturday."Everything felt pretty good," said Locke, 3-0 with a 2.60 ERA in his last five starts. "I just need to be a little bit more efficient early in the count."Locke was hit hard in his only career start at Citi Field, allowing five runs and nine hits over 3 2/3 innings in a 6-0 loss Sept. 26.Ruben Tejada went 3 for 3 off Locke in that game, and David Wright singled against him to set a franchise record with his 1,419th career hit.Wright is 0 for 5 with three strikeouts this week after homering in three straight games, but he hit .370 with two homers and nine RBIs in seven games against Pittsburgh last season. The Mets won both series between the teams.Dillon Gee (2-4, 6.16) will face the Pirates for the first time since 2011 and has been dominant against them, going 2-0 with a 1.71 ERA in three starts.Gee, though, enters Thursday with one of the highest ERAs in the majors. He's been tagged for eight runs and 16 hits in 11 innings over his last two starts.The right-hander has a 2.50 ERA in three outings at Citi Field but has gone 1-2 while getting a combined two runs of support.McCutchen is 1 for 9 against Gee but has been hot lately, batting .464 with two homers and five RBIs in his last seven games.Marte is hitting .393 with four homers and eight RBIs over a seven-game hitting streak.