Three consecutive quality starts have helped Charlie Morton start to chip away at an ERA that was through the roof after his first four outings.
The Philadelphia Phillies are certainly capable of sending that ERA skyrocketing all over again.The Phillies' NL-best offense looks to keep rolling Monday night at home against Morton and the Pittsburgh Pirates in the opener of a two-game series.Philadelphia (23-13) has scored an NL-high 85 runs this month -- Shane Victorino has five homers and 17 RBIs -- and its 5.55 runs per game on the season also lead the league.The Phillies are 11-3 in May -- tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the majors' best mark -- because of their offense coupled with improved pitching. Philadelphia's 4.34 ERA in April ranked 18th in baseball, but its 2.83 ERA this month trails only Tampa Bay and San Diego.Cole Hamels pitched 6 2/3 solid innings Sunday before Chad Durbin, Danys Baez and J.C. Romero closed the door on a 4-2 win in Milwaukee and a three-game sweep of the Brewers."That's a great team on the other side but we came out with three wins," said Romero, who earned his first save since 2008. "Everybody is pulling and going in the right direction, and everybody is pulling in the same direction. This is just one step."The Phillies' staff isn't alone in its recent improvement. Morton (1-6, 9.19 ERA) was 0-4 with a 16.20 ERA through his first four starts, but has lasted six innings in each of his last three outings, posting a 4.00 ERA.He gave up three runs Tuesday against Cincinnati, but Pittsburgh's offense mustered one hit and the bullpen imploded en route to a 9-0 loss."I'm throwing the ball pretty well," Morton told the Pirates' official website. "(I am) just trying to be consistent, stay in the zone and be aggressive. It was a quality start. That's how I've got to look at it."Morton gave up two runs over six innings last Aug. 27 against Philadelphia, his lone start against the Phillies since joining Pittsburgh. He didn't receive a decision in the Pirates' 3-2 victory.The right-hander can help Pittsburgh (16-21) secure its first winning road trip of any length since it went 5-2 from Aug. 20-26, 2007, a remarkable drought spanning 28 trips outside of PNC Park.The Pirates blew their first chance for a third win on their five-game trip Sunday in Chicago. Pittsburgh beat the Cubs on Friday and Saturday, but blew a 3-1, seventh-inning lead in the finale and fell 4-3."It's great to take the series, but being ahead ... you want to win the games you're supposed to win," said reliever Evan Meek, who has a 0.72 ERA in 18 appearances.The Pirates' best hitter in May has been Andrew McCutchen, who's batting .432 (19 for 44). The rest of the Pirates have combined to hit .213 this month.Philadelphia probable starter Kyle Kendrick (1-1, 5.89) has shown improvement along with the rest of the staff. After concluding April with a 7.61 ERA, the right-hander is 1-0 with a 2.77 ERA in two May outings.He gave up four runs over six innings last Monday at Colorado, leaving without a decision in Philadelphia's eventual 9-5 win.Kendrick is 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA in two starts against the Pirates, but hasn't faced them since 2008. Pittsburgh outfielder Ryan Church is 5 for 9 with a homer and four walks off Kendrick.