Two clubs looking to use the stretch run to peer toward next year meet when the visiting Chicago Cubs open a four-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday.
The Cubs (64-85) have won two straight, including a 4-3 road victory on Wednesday against the Miami Marlins, after a three-gamelosing streak.
Chicago's big hit on Wednesday was the 23rd homer of the season for Patrick Wisdom, who entered the game 1-for-17 in September.
"I was looking at what I wasn't doing well and how pitchers were going to exploit me instead of sticking with what I did really well (last year)," Wisdom said.
The Pirates (55-94) have lost six in a row, all in New York, four against the Mets and two against the Yankees.
The two in the Bronx could be demoralizing for any club, 9-8 on Giancarlo Stanton's walk-off grand slam on Tuesday and 14-2 on Wednesday -- Pittsburgh's ninth loss this season by double digits.
The Pirates' bullpen gave up 15 runs and 13 hits in 6 1/3 innings against the Yankees.
"You have to execute pitches, and we didn't do it," said Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton, whose team won four straight at Cincinnati before the rough stretch in New York.
"We've got to flush (it)," Shelton said. "We started the road trip really well by winning four games, and (then) played two playoff teams that are playing really well right now. We just have to bounce back and get after the Cubs."
One positive for the Pirates is the likelihood that closer David Bednar (back), who has been on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis, will return from the injured list during the Cubs series.
In the series opener, Chicago right-hander Hayden Wesneski (1-1, 2.30 ERA) is slated to oppose Pittsburgh right-hander Mitch Keller (5-11, 4.03).
Wesneski, who has not faced the Pirates, will be making his second career major league start, his fourth appearance.
On Saturday, he started against the Colorado Rockies and did not get a decision after pitching seven innings, allowing one run and three hits and at one point retiring 16 straight batters.
"A beautiful outing," Cubs manager David Ross called it.
"My stuff is good, and I know that," Wesneski said. "If I keep throwing strikes with my stuff, I have a chance even when I'm not sharp with my stuff."
Keller is 3-5 with a 2.69 ERA over his past 12 outings and has given up three or fewer earned runs in 16 of his past 19 starts.
Most recently, Keller allowed three runs in six innings on Friday in a loss against the Mets.
Keller reached something of a minor milestone in that game when he was in a jam in the sixth and Shelton made a mound visit but did not pull him.
"I think he gets (leeway) because of how well he's pitched over the last three months," Shelton said. "When you get to execute pitches and you know your plan, yeah, you have the ability to have a conversation (rather than necessarily get taken out)."
Against the Cubs, Keller is 2-3 with a 5.51 ERA in eight career appearances, seven of them starts. His only appearance against them this year came May 18, when he made his first career relief appearance and picked up a win as he allowed one run in 2 2/3 innings.
--Field Level Media