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On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Pirates Series Preview

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The Cubs and Pirates haven't played a series this late in the year that meant so much to both teams in 77 years.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

A little history, if you don't mind, before I get to this weekend's games.

In 1938, the Pirates came to Wrigley Field for a three-game series against the Cubs beginning September 27, with seven games remaining in the season. Pittsburgh was in first place, 1½ games ahead of the Cubs.

But the Cubs were a hot team, riding a seven-game winning streak coming into that series and coming off a sweep of the Cardinals (who were a sixth-place team that year). Former Cardinal Dizzy Dean, trying to resurrect his career after a serious injury, threw a gem in the first game of the series and the Cubs won 2-1.

The next day produced Gabby Hartnett's famous "Homer In The Gloamin'," one of the two or three top signature moments in the history of the Cubs franchise. Here's what I wrote about that game three years ago. It put the Cubs in first place for the first time since June. It did not, as believed by some, clinch the pennant; there were still four games remaining in the season (five for the Pirates).

The Cubs swept the series by winning 10-1 September 29, their tenth win in a row. They clinched the pennant two days later in St. Louis.

Here's hoping for a repeat of that long-ago series this weekend. Interestingly, the Cubs' final record in 1938 -- 89-63 -- is exactly what their record is right now, entering this series.

Fun fact

Each team has just one player who played for the other. The ex-Cub on the Pirates, you know well: Aramis Ramirez. I'll bet you can't guess the former Pirate on the Cubs, so I'll put his name in white so you'll have to highlight this paragraph to find out (and don't give it away in the comments): David Ross, who played 40 games for the Bucs in 2005

Pitching matchups

Friday: Jon Lester (10-11, 3.46 ERA, 1.168 WHIP, 3.07 FIP) vs. Gerrit Cole (17-8, 2.64 ERA, 1.103 WHIP, 2.64 FIP)

Saturday: Jason Hammel (9-6, 3.79 ERA, 1.151 WHIP, 3.72 FIP) vs. Francisco Liriano (11-7, 3.41 ERA, 1.213 WHIP, 3.23 FIP)

Sunday: Jake Arrieta (20-6, 1.88 ERA, 0.903 WHIP, 2.44 FIP) vs. A.J. Burnett (9-5, 3.15 ERA, 1.355 WHIP, 3.26 FIP)

Prediction

Two marquee pitching matchups are featured here: Lester vs. Cole and Arrieta vs. Burnett. The latter is a rematch of a game last week in Pittsburgh, which the Cubs won in extras. The Cubs nearly beat Cole there, too, and might have if not for a bullpen meltdown. Liriano is always tough on the Cubs, though he's pitched against them just once this year (April 21 at PNC Park) and the Cubs hit him pretty well and won the game. I just have a feeling that Hammel might have a good outing left in him. He'll need to in order to win that one.

The Pirates are missing Jung Ho Kang, who was seriously injured in the last game between these two teams, September 17 in Pittsburgh. That doesn't seem to have slowed the Bucs down much, though -- they're 5-1 since the Kang injury.

Two out of three for the Cubs.

Up next

The Cubs host the Royals Monday evening for a makeup of a game rained out on May 30, then head to Cincinnati for a three-game set against the Reds.