Cubs vs. Pirates Preview, Thursday 9/12, 6:05 CT: Still Trying To Play Spoiler

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs go from tough to tougher, as they'll have a four-game series against the Pirates, who are fighting for the National League Central title (that sounds weird, doesn't it?).

The Pirates enter tonight's game one game behind the Cardinals for the National League Central lead, and two games ahead of the Reds for the top wild-card spot. Obviously, winning the division is most important for all of these teams, to stay out of the one-and-done game.

So the Cubs, having dispatched the Reds into third place with their series win in Cincinnati, will now try to do the same to the Pirates. The last time the Cubs came to Pittsburgh, they got swept.

I'm still most interested in the race for the second wild card in the American League. If the Red Sox beat the Rays again tonight, there will be five teams within 1½ games of that spot. After tonight, the Rays will have 17 games remaining, the Indians 16, Orioles and Royals 16 and Yankees 15.

Oh, for a multi-team tie. Even a three-way tie would be awesome. Four or five? Bring it on.

Cubs lineup:

Castro SS, Barney 2B, Rizzo 1B, Murphy 3B, Lake LF, Castillo C, McDonald RF, Sweeney CF, Rusin P

Pirates lineup:

Harrison 2B, Mercer SS, McCutchen CF, Morneau 1B, Byrd RF, Alvarez 3B, Martin C, Tabata LF, Locke P

Hey, look! It's our old buddy Marlon Byrd, batting fifth for a contender.

Today's Starting Pitchers

Chris Rusin

Chris Rusin


Cubs

vs. Jeff Locke

Jeff Locke


Pirates

vs. Pit

--

vs. Cubs


W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2013 - Chris Rusin 2-3 10 10 0 0 0 0 53.0 52 18 17 5 21 30 2.89 1.38


W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2013 - Jeff Locke 9-5 27 27 0 0 0 0 153.1 133 59 55 9 78 114 3.23 1.38

Chris Rusin faced the Pirates twice last September, but that was a very different team than he'll face tonight. Current Pirates are a small-sample-size 7-for-29 (.241) against him with one home run (Andrew McCutchen). Rusin's last start was shaky, but the bullpen managed to get out of a jam and his ERA didn't jump as a result. His last three starts will be useful in seeing whether he can be part of the 2014 rotation, since at least this one will be against a contending team.

Jeff Locke got off to a really good start this year and among those was a solid start against the Cubs June 9 at Wrigley Field (the Cubs won the game against Pittsburgh's bullpen). Locke, though, has a 7.16 ERA in six starts since August 1 and hasn't gone into the sixth inning since July. So maybe... not doomed today.

Today's game is on WGN.

Here is the complete MLB.com Mediacenter for today.

MLB.com Gameday

Baseball-reference.com game preview

SB Nation game preview

Please visit our SB Nation Pirates site Bucs Dugout.

Here's the scoop on game threads for 2013. You'll find the game preview -- like this one -- posting as the first link in the StoryStream™, which will then contain all the overflow threads and the recap. The recap will also be on the front page as a separate post; once I post a game recap, the stream for each game will be retitled "Cubs vs. (Team) (Day of Week) Game Threads" so you can go back and find every thread related to that particular game.

In general, game previews will post two hours before game time. Exception: for day games after night games, that will usually be 90 minutes.

You will also be able to find the First Pitch Thread and all the overflow threads in the box marked "Chicago Cubs Game Threads" at the bottom of the front page (you can also find them in this section link). They will also appear in this StoryStream™. As I've done for each regular-season game for several years now, we'll have the First Pitch thread at five minutes before game time (moved up from actual game time per your requests), then an overflow one hour, two hours and 2:45 after game time.

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