CHICAGO -- The Pirates have been outperforming expectations all season, yet they still saved their best for last. A week after limping out of Pittsburgh for what many foresaw as a trip into a spiral, they are staging a road rally.
The Bucs entered Saturday's game at Wrigley Field against the Cubs with seven consecutive wins, their most in a road trip since 1987. A 4-0 victory made eight in a row, enough for their best trip since '38.
"Pretty cool, huh? And right in the face when people thought we were tilting the other way," said manager Clint Hurdle, recalling the oh-oh sentiments as his club checked out of PNC Park on Sept. 17 after a third consecutive loss to the Cubs.
That pushed the Pirates five games behind division-leading St. Louis and, more relevantly, dropped their National League Wild Card edge over Chicago to two games. Waiting for them on the horizon was a series in Los Angeles, leading off with the Dodgers' one-two punch of NL Cy Young Award candidates, then four games in a place (Coors Field) where they had won once in the past two years.
"I know what people were thinking. 'Here we go.' I get the questions," Hurdle said. "Then we lose the first to [Zack Greinke]. But then we beat [Clayton] Kershaw, win the Sunday game, show up in Colorado [for four straight wins].
"We're enjoying the ride. That 'take-care-of-today' thing works for us; it works for everybody if you buy into it. We enjoy the day."
The win streak improved the Bucs' road record to 45-35 entering Sunday, the club's most road wins since 46 in 1991. That reflects this late charge, with 12 wins in the past 15 road games.
"Until this nice stretch in the end, we were yin and yang, back and forth on the road," said Hurdle, who doesn't hesitate when it comes to giving credit for the stretch. "You're not going to have any kind of a good record anywhere unless you pitch well. We have as good a bullpen as there is. Games we're supposed to win, we win. That has a lot to do with it."
Touching all the bases
• First: Pittsburgh relievers' 93 wins since the start of the 2013 season lead the Majors; the Royals are next with 88 relief wins.
• Second: The club record for most road wins is out of reach: 50, by the 1979 World Series champs.
• Third: Starling Marte's six-game RBI streak ended on Saturday. It was the Bucs' longest since Pedro Alvarez's seven-game streak in 2010 -- his career games Nos. 42-48.