Charlie Morton has started just four games for the Pirates this season. But for some reason --- maybe that he's a ground-ball pitcher --- Morton has the most unearned runs charged to him (six) of any Pirates pitcher in 2013.
But Morton doesn't mind. The players have given their all in each game behind him, finding ways to win in all different ways.
"Everything that these guys have done has been earned. I don't see it as 'things are going our way' or 'we're catching all the breaks.' I don't see that," Morton said. "I see a team that's fighting for every inch and earning every win. I wouldn't classify it as luck. I wouldn't. Because that would be selling them short about what they've done so far."
Morton and the first-place Pirates will try to continue their winning ways Saturday against Edwin Jackson and the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The Bucs took Friday's series opener behind Francisco Liriano's complete game, the club's first of the season.
Morton was chased from his last start after just two innings because of a 2-hour, 20-minute rain delay. This season, he's allowed 11 runs -- five earned -- in 18 innings. He's yet to pitch six innings in an outing this season.
Jackson has allowed four runs or more in nine of his 16 starts, owning a 4-10 mark, 5.75 ERA and 1.54 WHIP. This will be his fourth start against Pittsburgh this season, against whom he's allowed seven earned runs in 15 innings. Jackson's last time out against the Pirates, he threw seven strong innings, giving up four hits, one run and one walk while fanning eight. It was arguably his strongest start of the season.
The Cubs' rotation has been one of the team's biggest strengths this season, but the bullpen has been a weakness. Entering Friday, the club's starters had the ninth-best ERA (3.73) and best batting average against (.235) in baseball. The relievers were 26th and 24th in those categories.
The Pirates' bullpen, however, ranks in the top five in opponents' average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and ERA.
Cubs manager Dale Sveum acknowledged that the Pirates' turnaround after two decades of difficulty has a lot to do with their ability to hold leads.
"These guys, the game has been over in the fifth inning when they have the lead," Sveum said. "Their bullpen has been that dominant. They've won every single game they've been leading. When you get those kind of pieces, it helps."
Pirates: Burnett will return Sunday
A.J. Burnett will be activated Sunday and start against the Cubs after missing three weeks with a Grade 1 tear in his right calf.
Burnett last pitched on June 8 against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, throwing 8 1/3 innings in a 6-2 win.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said with how sharp Burnett's Thursday bullpen was, the club didn't see the need for a rehab start. The 36-year-old is 4-6 with a 3.12 ERA and 1.13 WHIP this year.
"We didn't see a need to have him throw 75 pitches in a rehab game," Hurdle said Friday. "His experience, the adrenaline of a packed house, his success here. All of it will combine to get him out there in a very competitive state."
Cubs: Wood makes All-Star case
Travis Wood tossed six scoreless innings Thursday against Oakland, taking a no-decision. The 26-year-old lefty is 5-6 this year with a 2.69 ERA and .979 WHIP.
Wood has turned in a quality start in all but one of his 17 tries this season, but hasn't won since May 30.
"He's been our All-Star," Sveum said. "He's been the most consistent. He hasn't had a bad outing, knock on wood. It's hard to go out there for 16, 17 outings or whatever it's been and not have a hiccup along the way. He's kept us in every ballgame."
• Pirates and Cubs players will find out if they have made the 2013 National League All-Star team on Saturday. The All-Stars will be revealed at 6:30 p.m. ET on Saturday on the 2013 MLB All-Star Game Selection Show presented by Taco Bell, televised nationally on FOX.
• The Pirates are 25-13 against the NL Central this season. Since it formed in 1994, they've never had a winning record in the division, although they haven't had a winning season in that time, either. The Cubs are 11-26 against NL Central teams, the worst mark of any club in baseball against its own division.
Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.