The Cubs are facing the Pirates having just had a tough one-run loss to a team with a losing record.
That describes this series -- but it's also the way the Cubs entered the series last week against the Bucs in Pittsburgh, coming off a loss to the Braves. They were three games ahead of the Pirates entering that set, and swept them, and have gone 8-2 since the, while the Pirates have gone 3-5. The Cubs' lead in the N.L. Central stands at seven games.
This is not to say the Cubs should underestimate the Pirates, and I'm sure they won't. The Pirates were muddling around .500 this time a year ago (17-16, to 18-15 now), and then they got hot. It'd be a good time for the Cubs to not let that happen.
The Cubs have swept the Pirates five times in Pittsburgh (2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2016) since the last time they swept a three-game set from them in Wrigley. The last sweep of three games or more by the Cubs over the Pirates in Chicago was April 18, 19 and 20, 2008. (They did take a rain-shortened two-game set from them August 14 and 15, 2009.)
Friday: Jason Hammel (4-0, 1.85 ERA, 1.147 WHIP, 3.23 FIP) vs. Francisco Liriano (3-1, 3.60 ERA, 1.371 WHIP, 4.51 FIP)
Saturday: Jake Arrieta (6-0, 1.13 ERA, 0.875 WHIP, 2.79 FIP) vs. Jeff Locke (1-2, 4.68 ERA, 1.684 WHIP, 4.67 FIP)
Sunday: Jon Lester (4-1, 1.96 ERA, 1.022 WHIP, 3.39 FIP) vs. Gerrit Cole (3-3, 3.78 ERA, 1.350 WHIP, 3.11 FIP)
Times & TV channels
Friday: 1:20 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago, MLB Network (outside Chicago and Pittsburgh markets)
Saturday: 1:20 p.m. CT, ABC7 Chicago
Sunday: 1:20 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago
Two of three. The Cubs always seem to have trouble with Liriano, and I'm not predicting sweeps. Further, the Pirates have Jung Ho Kang back, and he's started hot, with three home runs in his first five games.
The Cubs are off Monday and then head to Milwaukee for a three-game series against the Brewers.