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The Cubs Cannot Take This Series Lightly: Cubs vs. Pirates Preview, Tuesday 5/4, 6:05 CT

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The Pirates, losers of at least 94 games the last five straight years (think about that the next time you complain about the Cubs), are off to a 10-15 start -- tied with the Brewers for the second-worst record in the National League. In a year when 13 of the 16 NL teams are within 4.5 games of each other, where does this mark actually put the Pirates?

The answer is, who knows? The Pirates are already five games behind their Pythagorean projection -- they have scored 86 runs and allowed 175, which projects to a 5-20 record. In their 25 games played to date they have allowed eight or more runs 10 times -- all losses. Since starting the season 7-5 they have gone 3-10, and one of those wins took 14 innings and the second Trevor Hoffman blown save in two days to accomplish.

Meanwhile, since Lou Piniella took over as Cubs manager in 2007, his Cubs teams are 32-15 against the Pirates (24-8 the last two years). These are games the Cubs absolutely must win if they are to establish themselves as serious contenders this year.

Finally, I thought I'd pick apart this Toni Ginnetti article from the Sun-Times since it's a whole heap of wrong:

There are more home games (50) in the first half of the season, which adds to the urgency of playing better at Wrigley Field.

Toni's got a weird concept of "first half". This year's 50th home game will be played on July 21, well after the first half (both in games and via the All-Star break) ends.

The eye-opening success of 20-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro in the Arizona Fall League through spring and now at Class AA Tennessee (.354, eight doubles, four triples, one home run, 20 RBI) has put him squarely in the middle of a conundrum.

No, it doesn't. Ryan Theriot is actually playing well now and so is the team. Castro needs to stay where he is, or be promoted to Iowa, not Chicago.

Playing in Seattle means an extra trip to the West Coast.

So? There's an off day before this trip.

Playing the White Sox six times despite their own struggles remains a showdown affair, but now with a sponsored trophy to underscore bragging rights

No one really cares about the trophy except the sponsor.

Bullpens are either a boost or a bane for any team. But the Cubs created an added quandary by moving Zambrano to the setup role.

There's no "quandary" here -- just an attempt to fix one of the things that had become a problem in the season's first month.

About the only thing in that article I agree with is her analysis of the Cardinals -- who do look pretty strong. But if the Cubs have to "settle" for a wild card instead of the NL Central -- so what? That would get them into the playoffs, where in the 16 seasons since the wild card was instituted, four wild cards have won the World Series (1997 Marlins, 2002 Angels, 2003 Marlins, 2004 Red Sox) and five others have made it there (2000 Mets, 2002 Giants, 2005 Astros, 2006 Tigers, 2007 Rockies). Just get in, doesn't matter how.

Today's Starting Pitchers
Ryan Dempster
Ryan Dempster
Cubs
vs. Paul Maholm
Paul Maholm
Pirates
2-1 W-L 1-2
2.78 ERA 4.83
32 SO 20
10 BB 13
3 HR 4
vs. Pit -- vs. Cubs

W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2010 - Ryan Dempster 2-1 6 5 0 0 0 0 35.2 25 11 11 3 10 32 2.78 .98


W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2010 - Paul Maholm 1-2 5 5 0 0 0 0 31.2 32 17 17 4 13 20 4.83 1.42

Paul Maholm is 4-1 vs. the Cubs in nine starts -- but with a 7.06 ERA. Maybe this is the day Aramis Ramirez gets back on track -- he's hitting .400 vs. Maholm (8-for-20) with 2 HR. Current Cubs are hitting .349 against him (37-for-106) with five HR.

Ryan Dempster's overall record vs. the Pirates doesn't tell us much, since it's split between so many starts (17) and relief appearances (25). His last start vs. the Pirates was outstanding -- a 6-0 CG shutout last September 29, the last CG thrown by a Cubs pitcher. He handles most of the Pirates hitters pretty well (15-for-63, .238); only Garrett Jones has homered off him.

Lineup via Twittermyer:

riot, bake, dlee, byrd, rami, sori, nady, soto, demp.

Today's game is again on WGN. There is no Pirates TV today -- so if you don't have WGN, you're out of luck unless you have MLB.TV. 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.

Tonight's first pitch thread will be up at 6 CDT, and the overflows will post at 7, 8 and 8:45 pm CDT.

Discuss amongst yourselves.