The Pirates, who only a few weeks ago were the Cubs' closest competition in the N.L. Central, have fallen on rough times.
After defeating the Rangers on May 27, they were in second place, 4½ games behind the Cubs. Since then they have gone 4-14 and a lot of those losses were even before they lost a member of their starting rotation (Gerrit Cole) and starting catcher (Francisco Cervelli) to injuries. They're now starting Chris Stewart behind the plate, and he's not very good, and their backup is Erik Kratz, and he's worse. And Stewart hurt his foot last Saturday and didn't play at all the last two days.
Jameson Taillon, who was the second overall pick in 2010 but missed big chunks of time (all of the 2014 and 2015 seasons) due to Tommy John surgery, replaced Cole in the rotation, and we'll see him on Sunday. He's good, but after just two major-league starts it's hard to say exactly how good he can be. He had an excellent walk ratio in Triple-A this year: just six walks in 61 innings. He's walked three in 14 big-league innings so far.
The Pirates are now closer to last place in the Central than first place. They'll have to step things up to stay in contention.
Including last year's wild-card game, the Cubs have won 10 of the last 13 games played between these two clubs.
Friday: Jake Arrieta, RHP (10-1, 1.86 ERA, 0.954 WHIP, 2.59 FIP) vs. Francisco Liriano, LHP (4-6, 4.92 ERA, 1.596 WHIP, 5.53 FIP)
Saturday: Jon Lester, LHP (8-3, 1.89 ERA, 0.946 WHIP, 2.85 FIP) vs. Jonathon Niese, LHP (6-3, 4.60 ERA, 1.454 WHIP, 5.21 FIP)
Sunday: Kyle Hendricks, RHP (4-6, 3.05 ERA, 1.005 WHIP, 3.30 FIP) vs. Jameson Taillon, RHP (1-0, 1.93 ERA, 0.786 WHIP, 3.78 FIP)
Times & TV channels
Friday: 1:20 p.m. CT, ABC7 Chicago, MLB Network (outside Chicago and Pittsburgh markets)
Saturday: 7:15 p.m. CT, Fox-TV (regional -- coverage map)
Sunday: 7:05 p.m. CT, ESPN
The Cubs have favorable pitching matchups in two of these three games, and we don't really know what to expect from the touted Pirates rookie Jameson Taillon. Because baseball, they might wind up winning that one and losing one of the others, or ... not. The Cubs face two lefties in this series, which likely means more playing time for Albert Almora Jr. In any case, this series looks like another two-of-three for the Cubs.
The St. Louis Cardinals come to Wrigley Field for a three-game series beginning Monday night.