The Pirates have hurdled a number of obstacles in the first five months of the season en route to the fourth-best record in the Majors, but they'll need to overcome at least one more demon from their past over the next week if they hope to maintain or build upon their slim one-game lead in the National League Central heading into September.
Pittsburgh will head West beginning Monday for a seven-day, seven-game road trip, starting in San Diego to face the Padres before traveling up the Pacific Coast to San Francisco for a series against the Giants. While neither team figures into the postseason picture, playing in National League West parks over the past few years hasn't been kind to the Pirates. The club is just 28-60 in that division's cities since the start of the 2008 season.
Although his team hasn't experienced much success out West of late, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle is confident the resurgent Pirates will be up for the challenge this time around.
"It's just another opportunity to do what we do at this level, to go East Coast to West Coast and play the Padres and the Giants -- for me it's cool," Hurdle said. "It's what we do in the big leagues, get to go out there and match up and compete."
First off for the Pirates will be a three-game set vs. the Padres at Petco Park. Pittsburgh was swept in its series in San Diego last season and has lost eight of its last nine games against the Padres.
Taking the mound for the Pirates will be Francisco Liriano, who is 10-3 since June 7. He tossed a complete game his last time out against the Cardinals, surrendering just one run on four hits in a 5-1 victory.
Opposing Liriano for the Padres will be Andrew Cashner, who called his last start his "best outing all year" despite taking a loss. The right-hander allowed three runs over seven innings but retired the last 14 batters he faced.
"Not much hard contact against Cash ... that was great," Padres manager Bud Black said. "We thought that the fastball would come into play, and today it did. He threw some low bullets and threw a number of quality sliders. He threw an outstanding game."
Pirates: Johnson promoted to aid bullpen
The Pirates called up left-hander Kris Johnson from Triple-A Indianapolis prior to Sunday's series finale with the D-backs.
A 28-year-old veteran of eight Minor League seasons, Johnson pitched six strong innings in relief vs. Arizona later in the day, but allowed two runs in the 16th and took the loss in his big league debut.
Michael McKenry was transferred from the 15- to the 60-day disabled list to open room on the 40-man roster for Johnson, while outfielder Andrew Lambo was optioned to Indianapolis to create a vacancy on the 25-man active roster.
Padres: Venable streaking
Will Venable extended his career-best hitting streak to 15 games Sunday with an RBI single in the fifth inning.
The streak is the longest active in the Majors and the longest by a Padres player since Mark Kotsay hit in 16 straight games in 2002.
"This has been a good second half for Will, no doubt about it," Black said. "The average is climbing. Historically, his second halves have been good. I think overall this year, and even last year, have been bigger peaks and valleys."
Black also made sure to acknowledge Venable's all-around game and not focus solely on hitting.
"He's playing very well," Black said. "He's playing well on both sides of the ball. He's playing well on the basepaths, playing a complete game. He's playing his [behind] off. I love it."
• The Pirates are 60-2 when leading after eight innings.
• Despite sitting in last place in the NL West, the Padres are 33-29 at home this season.
Tyler Emerick is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.