SAN FRANCISCO -- Two teams that haven't taken advantage of a stretch of games against fellow National League playoff contenders square off in an important four-game series when the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants duel Thursday night.
Pirates right-hander Ivan Nova (6-6, 4.49 ERA) and Giants lefty Andrew Suarez (4-7, 4.60) are the scheduled starters in the series opener in a matchup of pitchers who suffered losses when the clubs met in a three-game set in Pittsburgh in May.
The Pirates won two of three in that series, starting when they bombed Suarez for five runs and seven hits in four innings in an 11-2 victory.
Pittsburgh also won the second game 6-5 before the Giants jumped on Nova for four runs and eight hits in 5 2/3 innings in a 5-0 win in the series finale.
The Pirates (59-56) and Giants (57-58) both find themselves looking up at several teams in the NL wild-card race on the eve of a series that could be a killer to one team's chances with the regular season starting its stretch run.
Pittsburgh is 2-1 on a critical Western swing after winning Tuesday and Wednesday at Colorado. It got them to 4-4 in a 12-game stretch against playoff contenders.
The Giants, meanwhile, are coming off a two-game sweep at the hands of the Houston Astros. They've gone just 2-4 in a 13-game stretch of their own against postseason hopefuls.
San Francisco is 0-2 to kick off a six-game homestand.
A Pirates-Giants series means a chance for the principals involved in an off-season deal between the two to see old friends.
Andrew McCutchen, a five-time All-Star in nine seasons with the Pirates, went 4-for-14 with three doubles in his May homecoming in Pittsburgh. He flied out three straight times against Nova in the May 13 game.
McCutchen, who was named the NL Most Valuable player in 2013, hit .291 over his nine seasons with the Pirates. He's hitting .261 for the Giants this season.
The May loss to San Francisco dropped Nova's career record against the Giants to 1-1 with a 3.16 ERA in four starts.
Gorkys Hernandez had a homer off Nova in that game. Nova has made just one career start in San Francisco, earning a no-decision in a 6-5 win.
Evan Longoria has been a thorn in Nova's side over the years, connecting for three home runs and 13 hits in 44 at-bats (.295) with nine RBIs.
The chief prospect acquired by the Pirates in the McCutchen trade, right-hander Kyle Crick, recorded his 11th hold of the season in Wednesday's 4-3 win at Colorado.
He notched his first hold of the season, with one shutout inning, in the May 11 win over Suarez.
Crick pitched just 30 games for the Giants and never recorded a save. He has two for the Pirates this season.
Suarez will be making his second career start against the Pirates. He allowed home runs to Starling Marte and Jose Osuna in May.