PITTSBURGH -- Gerrit Cole has picked the right time to start winning -- in the midst of a pennant race.
Cole won consecutive starts for the first time since early June, National League batting leader Josh Harrison had three hits, and the surging Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Chicago Cubs 7-3 Friday night for their seventh win in eight games.
Cole (9-5) improved to 5-0 against the Cubs, allowing three runs, five hits and one walk in six innings with six strikeouts. He also won at Wrigley Field last weekend.
Cole's only other consecutive winning starts this year were April 4 and 10, and May 29 and June 3. He also spent two stints on the disabled list, totaling 70 days.
Though he wasn't at his best, Cole was able to escape a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning after Welington Castillo's RBI single had pulled the Cubs to 4-3. Cole got Arismendy Alcantara to foul out to the catcher to end the inning.
"He has been able to slow himself down and focus on making the next big pitch," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Cole. "He did a good job of the big pitch when he had to."
Pittsburgh is 14-7 since Aug. 20, moving a season-high nine games over .500 at 78-69. The Pirates, who were eight games under as late as May 21 (18-26), maintained a 1 1/2-game lead over Milwaukee for the second NL wild card.
"We're playing really good baseball right now," shortstop Jordy Mercer said. "Even though we've been scoring runs, it always comes down to pitching and defense and that was the difference."
Harrison raised his average to .318 while scoring a pair of runs from the leadoff spot. Mercer also had three hits and drove in three runs, including a two-run single in the sixth that made it 6-3.
Neil Walker had a pair of RBI singles for the Pirates, who had 14 hits.
Alcantara and fellow rookie Javier Baez homered for the Cubs, who have lost seven straight in their longest skid since 2012. Baez had hit .103 in his previous 10 games and Alcantara batted .130 in his past 14.
Tsuyoshi Wada (4-3) gave up four runs and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings.
"I thought we put in some pretty good at bats," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "I thought, overall, we played a little bit better than we had the previous six games."
Cubs: 1B Anthony Rizzo (lower back strain) took batting practice and ran the bases during a pregame workout but missed his 16th straight game and likely won't return until Monday, when Chicago hosts Cincinnati.
Pirates: LF Starling Marte (bruised left elbow) sat out after leaving Thursday night's win at Philadelphia when he was hit by a pitch. RHP Charlie Morton (right hip inflammation/sports hernia) threw 42 pitches in a bullpen session and hopes to pitch in relief. His last major league appearance was on Aug. 15 when he started and lost at Washington.
Cubs LHP Felix Doubront (3-5, 5.43) is to make his third start Saturday night since being acquired July 30 from Boston in a trade, facing Pirates LHP Jeff Locke (7-4, 3.60). Doubront went 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA in his first two starts. Locke is 5-1 with a 3.29 ERA in his last seven starts.
Cubs rookie RF Jorge Soler is expected to miss the three-game series after traveling to Miami for the birth of his first child. He has hit .356 with four home runs and 13 RBIs in his first 12 big league games.