The success of the Chicago Cubs' starting rotation has been a pleasant surprise, even with marquee free-agent signing Edwin Jackson not quite living up to expectations.
Solid performances from the entire staff are a major reason for the Pittsburgh Pirates' current hot stretch.Jackson looks to help Chicago avoid a fourth consecutive defeat as he faces surging Pittsburgh on Thursday at PNC Park.The Cubs (18-27) are enduring another mediocre season overall, though their starters have been an unexpected strength with a 3.36 ERA that ranks fourth in the majors.Jeff Samardzija gave up a first-inning RBI single among just three hits in seven innings Tuesday, but Chicago's offense was shut out for the first time since April 24 in a 1-0 defeat in Pittsburgh."It's the same old song and dance," said manager Dale Sveum, whose team is hitting an NL-worst .214 with runners in scoring position. "We get people on but can't get them in."That may not bode well for Jackson (1-6, 5.76 ERA), who signed a four-year, $52 million deal in the offseason but has the worst ERA among Chicago's starting pitchers.He has been better over his last two starts, though. Jackson picked up his first win as a Cub on May 11, giving up two runs in 5 1/3 innings of an 8-2 victory over Washington, before allowing three runs in 6 2/3 innings of a 3-2 loss to the New York Mets on Friday."I've been feeling pretty good mechanically," Jackson said. "I've been able to go out and get in a rhythm early."The right-hander made his Cubs debut versus Pittsburgh on April 3, allowing two runs in five innings of a 3-0 loss. It marked Jackson's first defeat to the Pirates after going 4-0 with a 3.03 ERA in his previous six outings against them.Pittsburgh (28-18) surrendered just six runs in that three-game set -- Chicago still won twice -- and has been pitching very well lately. The Pirates have a 2.15 ERA while winning 10 of 12, including a pair of 1-0 victories during the current three-game winning streak.Garrett Jones drove in Andrew McCutchen, who had a pair of doubles, with Tuesday's lone run. Pittsburgh's three hits were its fewest since being held to a season-worst two in back-to-back losses to the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 5 and 6.Francisco Liriano gave up two hits in seven innings, helping the Pirates improve their team ERA to 3.27 ERA on the season -- second-best in the majors."I love the way we're going about our business," said manager Clint Hurdle, whose club has won six straight one-run games.Jeanmar Gomez will make his fifth start of the season looking to help Pittsburgh earn a three-game sweep.Gomez (2-0, 2.78) has gone 1-0 with a 2.89 ERA in four outings since entering the rotation May 1. However, he did not pitch very well Friday, allowing four runs -- three earned -- in 4 2/3 innings of a 5-4 victory over Houston.He hasn't thrown more than five innings in any start, though Hurdle has been happy with Gomez's performances."We're confident when he takes the mound," Hurdle told the team's official website. "Every time he's taken the ball, he's pitched a competitive game for us, whether it's been in long relief or the starts."The right-hander has never faced the Cubs, who have lost four of five.