On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Pirates Series Preview

Dog-piling in style, after a bases-loaded walk. - Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

After a 5-5 road trip, the Cubs come back home for a 10-game set, starting out with three more games against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

This will be the shortest series preview of them all, as it can be wrapped up in one sentence:

Please, for the love of all things good, don't throw anything to Andrew McCutchen.

NEXT STOP: The homestand continues with a three--

(Voice in my ear)

Wait... I need to write more than that? Are you sure? Okay, fine...

The Cubs finished off a successful 5-5 road trip (yes, 5-5 is considered successful) taking two of three games from the Miami Marlins, winning the rubber game 6-1 behind solid performances from Jake Arrieta and Starlin Castro. Their record now stands at 30-40, and their slow climb away from the National League cellar continues as the San Diego Padres (31-42) and Arizona Diamondbacks (31-45) sit behind them.

After having played 20 of their last 26 on the road, the Cubs now get 10 games at home starting out with another three-game set against the Pittsburgh Pirates. This will be the fourth series that the teams have played against each other this season and the second in just over a week. Pittsburgh comes into the series with a record of 35-37, eight games out in the NL Central, having just snapped a three-game losing streak with a win Thursday night against the Cubs' next opponent, the Cincinnati Reds. So far this season, the Cubs are 3-7 against the Pirates and are 1-2 against them at Wrigley Field.

LIKELY PITCHING MATCHUPS:

Friday - Charlie Morton (4-7, 3.09 ERA, 1.237 WHIP) vs. Edwin Jackson (4-7, 5.11 ERA, 1.500 WHIP)
Saturday -
Vance Worley (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.714 WHIP) vs. Travis Wood (7-5, 4.48 ERA, 1.364 WHIP)
Sunday - Brandon Cumpton (2-2, 5.82 ERA, 1.526 WHIP) vs. Jason Hammel (6-4, 3.02 ERA, 1.019 WHIP)

Two of the three matchups in this series are encore performances of a week ago (Morton vs. Jackson, Cumpton vs. Hammel), and in both of those cases the Pirates won the matchups the last time around. The only change is the appearance of Worley, who is filling in for the injured Francisco Liriano, on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left oblique. Any time I hear that injury, it always makes me think of the NHL generic "upper body injury". I'm not quite sure why, though.

By now, you know the drill when it comes to the Pirates' bullpen; either make sure you're winning the game before the seventh inning or watch as Tony Watson and Mark Melancon shut you down as they hand the game over to Jason Grilli. Grilli hasn't been as sharp lately, though, giving up four runs in his last four outings and blowing two saves in the process.

THE OFFENSE:

The Pirates offense features four starters whose OPS is currently at or above .750:

And once again, I implore the Cubs' pitchers:  Please, for the love of all things good, don't throw anything to Andrew McCutchen.

(Yes, I know.  I still need to write more.)

The Pirates list of .750-and-over players is relatively unchanged; McCutchen, Harrison, and Martin were all on it the last time the two teams met and the only new face is that of Polanco, who has had a solid debut since being called up on June 10 from Triple-A Indianapolis. Neil Walker (.805 OPS) is on the 15-day disabled list as a result of an appendectomy (ouch!); Harrison has been filling in for him at second base while he recovers.

The trip to Miami didn't go so well for Anthony Rizzo, whose OPS dipped back under the .900 mark to .897. Slacker. On the other hand, the 10-game road trip worked wonders for Castro, who left Wrigley Field on June 8 with a .745 OPS and is coming back at .816. Luis Valbuena holds steady at .840 to round out the trio, while Justin Ruggiano is just outside at .749.

GAME PROJECTIONS:

Game 1: I really don't have anything to say about Jackson. I'm not expecting anything out of him anymore other than to make another start and probably give up four or more runs in very slow fashion. But hey, at least you can count on him to start every five days! Yippee! (Boy, I wish the sarcasm font worked here.) Morton has not allowed more than three runs in any of his last five starts, and that will probably be more than adequate for this game.

Game 2: Honestly, when I looked at MLB.com and saw "Worley" listed as the Pittsburgh starter, I had no idea who they meant. And then when I saw that it was Vance Worley, I was surprised to know that he was still playing baseball, especially after seeing his horrid 2013 numbers with the Minnesota Twins. He made seven starts at Triple-A Indianapolis before being called up and was 3-2 with a 4.30 ERA and 1.109 WHIP while in the minors. As for Wood, hopefully this start will be similar to his gem against the Phillies and less like his last start against the Pirates, which he won despite not looking so sharp.

Game 3: Hammel has hit the proverbial bump in the road, putting up back-to-back starts in which he allowed four runs and pushing his WHIP above the 1.00 mark for the first time this year. Cumpton has given up a lot of baserunners in his last three starts but has managed to keep the run total down, allowing three or less each time. As I said after Hammel's last start, I really hope that these last two starts of his are not the beginning of a trend.

RUSS' PREDICTION: 1-2. I know the Cubs have the momentum after a strong series against a Marlin team that plays very well at home, but something about these pitching matchups just gives me a bit of the willies. Hopefully they can prove me wrong.

NEXT STOP: The homestand continues with the Cubs playing their third series of the year against the Cincinnati Reds.

Oh, and please, for the love of all things good, don't throw anything to Andrew McCutchen.

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