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On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Pirates Series Preview

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Here. We. Go.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

There really isn't a whole lot I can tell you about this series that you don't already know.

Yes, it's important. Yes, the Cubs would love to pass the Pirates and be able to host the wild-card game. On the other hand, the Cubs have played the Pirates pretty tough this year, although the two teams have met just twice since May and split those two games. The Cubs are a much better team than they were in May.

The Pirates are 7-6 in September and have lost games to bad teams that they probably should have won. The Cubs are 8-4 in September and have lost games to bad teams that they probably should have won.

The Pirates have an excellent record at home (49-22). But the Cubs are a good road team (39-32).

This series ought to be fun to watch. Tense, yes, but that's what we've been looking for, right? Meaningful, tense September baseball?

Three of the four games in this series will be on national TV. Tuesday night and Thursday afternoon will be on MLB Network and Wednesday night on ESPN. The only non-national-TV game in this series is the Tuesday day game, the makeup game for the August 3 rainout.

Finally, here's at least one piece of good news about this series: no rain and pleasant baseball weather for all three dates.

Pitching matchups

Tuesday Game 1: Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.59 ERA, 1.124 WHIP, 3.72 FIP) vs. Gerrit Cole (16-8, 2.54 ERA, 1.118 WHIP, 2.70 FIP)

Tuesday Game 2: Jon Lester (9-10, 3.50 ERA, 1.183 WHIP, 3.01 FIP) vs. J.A. Happ (9-7, 3.87 ERA, 1.295 WHIP, 3.61 FIP combined between Mariners and Pirates)

Wednesday: Jake Arrieta (19-6, 1.99 ERA, 0.925 WHIP, 2.52 FIP) vs. A.J. Burnett (8-5, 3.14 ERA, 1.325 WHIP, 3.22 FIP)

Thursday: Kyle Hendricks (7-6, 4.08 ERA, 1.220 WHIP, 3.47 FIP) vs. Charlie Morton (9-7, 4.02 ERA, 1.272 WHIP, 4.00 FIP)

Fun fact

In case you had forgotten, the August 3 game was rained out after the teams had played four innings to a 1-1 tie. Here's the recap I wrote the next morning. If the teams had played one more inning and remained tied, the game could have been suspended and completed the next day and this would still be a three-game series.

The issue of how and when to suspend games is something I still think MLB ought to deal with, as I wrote on August 4:

It does raise the question: should MLB consider suspending games that have gone this far, without becoming official? If so, where do you draw the line? Four innings? Three? One pitch? There were three hours and 29 minutes worth of rain delay in this game (in addition to a few minutes' delay in starting, which apparently wasn't counted in that 3:29). That means the four innings took about an hour and a half to complete, which is longer than usual for four innings.

Prediction

This is going to be a tough test. The Pirates, on paper (and by record), are a better team than the Cubs. Yet the Cubs have won seven of the first 12 games between these two teams this year and have managed to split the six games played in PNC Park so far. The Pirates have had a tough time against all the other teams in the N.L. Central, as they have a losing record (28-35) overall and also against each of the four other clubs.

It appears to me that the Cubs have the advantage in one of these pitching matchups, the Pirates in one, and the other two are pretty much even.

Thus I'm going to call for a split, and hope the Cubs can somehow manage to win three of four.

Up next

The Cubs return to Wrigley Field for their final regular-season homestand of 2015, beginning with a three-game weekend set against the Cardinals.