Second-half fades the last two years haven't slowed the Pirates down this season. They have equaled the franchise's third-best start since the advent of divisional play in 1969. The four other times they have been 31-19 or better have all resulted in postseason visits -- something the Bucs haven't enjoyed since 1992, which also happens to be the last time they had a winning season. And if there is a sign of hope, it has to be last weekend, when Pittsburgh took two of three from Milwaukee at Miller Park, where the Pirates had lost 46 of their previous 54 games. Last season's key second-half acquisition, Wandy Rodriguez, is rewarding the Bucs, having won four in a row to raise his record to 6-2, and Francisco Liriano has provided a lift in a 13-2 stretch by winning all three of his starts, allowing two earned runs in 18 innings. Pedro Alvarez is only hitting .200 -- thanks to a double on Sunday -- but he does have 10 home runs and has hit .279 with five home runs and 12 RBIs the last 13 games.
So much for five weeks of contending bliss. Since that May 6 game in which James Shields left with a 1-0 lead after eight innings against the White Sox -- when Greg Holland failed to convert a save for only the second time all year and Chicago pulled out a 2-1, 11-inning victory -- the Royals have been in a fast fade. They have lost 16 of 20 games, scoring three or fewer in losses 13 times. They have scored 33 runs in their four victories and 38 in the losses. The offense is struggling -- Mike Moustakas has hit .136 and Jeff Francoeur .149 in the 20 games -- but it's that revamped rotation that has undone Kansas City. During the 17-10 start to the season, the rotation compiled a 3.40 ERA. In the last 20 games, it is 4.19, with Jeremy Guthrie stumbling to 1-3 with a 6.39 ERA and Wade Davis at 1-2 with a 7.06 ERA. Shields has done his best (1.74) but is still winless in four starts. Holland hasn't even been able to get into a save situation during the three-week slide.
The A's get a test in Interleague Play, with four games against the San Francisco Giants. They had an enjoyable tuneup, sweeping a three-game series at Houston, which is now 0-for-9 against Oakland in the Astros' first season in the American League West. The A's have won eight of their last nine, sweeping Kansas City and taking two of three from Texas as well, but had scored only 21 runs in the six games against the Royals and Rangers before going on a 23-run outburst in Houston. Oakland has outscored Houston, 68-31, this season. Eight of the nine regulars in the A's lineup are hitting better than .300 against Astros, led by former Houston shortstop Jed Lowrie (.429) and Coco Crisp (.419). Crisp has three of his five home runs and eight of his 17 RBIs in the eight games in which he has appeared against the Astros. Oakland is 19-23 against teams other than Houston.
There was a definite celebration in Seattle on Sunday. Trailing 2-0 into the sixth inning against the Rangers, the Mariners rallied on a two-run Kendrys Morales home run in the bottom of the sixth, then came up with a Raul Ibanez home run to erase a 3-2 Rangers lead in the bottom of the 11th, and pulled out a 4-3, 13-inning victory on a Jason Bay single.
"It is probably bigger than people will let on," Bay said after the game.
How big? Well, it ended a eight-game losing streak that began with Seattle suffering a devastating four-game sweep at Cleveland. The Indians had three walk-off victories in their first four-game sweep of the Mariners since 1981, underlined by the 10-8, 10-inning series finale a week ago. After Kyle Seager homered to tie the game for Seattle in the eighth, and Endy Chavez homered for a 7-6 lead in the top of the ninth, closer Tom Wilhelmsen was charged with his first blown save of the season in the bottom of the ninth, when he covered first and dropped the throw from Justin Smoak for what would have been the game-ending out, allowing the tying run to score. Then, after Smoak homered in the top of the 10th for an 8-7 lead, Yan Gomes delivered the game-ending three-run home run. And all of a sudden, a Mariners team that was coming off taking two of three from both the Yankees and A's was in a free fall, getting outscored 60-23 in the eight-game slide.
Up: White Sox
After taking two of three from Boston last week, the White Sox swept a weekend series from Miami, and thanks to 10 wins in their last 14 games, Chicago was back at .500 (24-24) on Monday for the first time since the eighth game of the season. What's more, the White Sox play 22 of their next 29 games against teams with a losing record, the seven exceptions coming against the A's. Manager Robin Ventura was offering no excuses for the weekend sweep of the struggling Marlins.
"You need to win the games you are supposed to," he said on Sunday afternoon.
The White Sox haven't overpowered anyone in the 14-game surge, but they have been fundamentally solid, committing only six errors, leading to only four unearned runs.
The Rockies felt they made a statement when they took three of four from the Giants at Coors Field a week earlier, the first series win against San Francisco at home since 2009. The Giants, however, answered back last weekend, taking two of three at AT&T Park, knocking the Rockies out of a tie for the National League West lead, and leaving them with their 10th consecutive series loss in San Francisco. And the Giants made it painful, including Saturday's 6-5, 10-inning loss. Troy Tulowitzki homered in the top of the inning, and San Francisco answered with Angel Pagan's inside-the-park walk-off home run. It's not just that the Rockies are 4-6 against the Giants, but they have blown leads of 5-1, 4-0 and 6-0 in three of those losses. Colorado's rotation is starting to unravel, which has the Rockies looking at a possible callup of lefty Drew Pomeranz and keeping an eye on the efforts of Roy Oswalt, whose comeback has taken him to Double-A Tulsa. Oswalt made of the first of possibly five starts for the Drillers on Friday. Jon Garland has lost his last four starts. Juan Nicascio has managed to pitch six innings only three times.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.