About a year ago, when the 2016 schedule was released, this four-game series loomed as potentially quite important for both the Cubs and Pirates, who were at the time fighting for wild-card berths. Both were expected to be strong contenders for the N.L. Central title this year.
That worked out swimmingly for the Cubs, who won the division going away and are headed to the playoffs with home field in the first two rounds.
Not so for the Pirates. They hung in there with the Cubs through May, had a horrific June (9-19), then righted their ship and were solidly in the wild-card race through August 28. At that time they were just half a game behind the Cardinals, who occupied the second wild-card spot.
Then they came to Wrigley and the Cubs swept them, the first three of what turned into an eight-game losing streak, and the following week they lost three of four to the awful Reds. Since August 29 the Pirates are 10-17. They still have a mathematical shot at a wild card, but they trail the Giants (now in the second wild-card spot) by 4½ games with seven to go.
So these games are critical for the Pirates if they want any shot at postseason play, and that's a real longshot. The Cubs will do their best to send them home for the winter, even as they play these games more for playoff practice.
Monday: Kyle Hendricks, RHP (15-8, 2.06 ERA, 0.961 WHIP, 3.26 FIP) vs. Chad Kuhl, RHP (5-3, 3.73 ERA, 1.181 WHIP, 3.90 FIP)
Tuesday: John Lackey, RHP (10-8, 3.39 ERA, 1.042 WHIP, 3.80 FIP) vs. Ryan Vogelsong, RHP (3-6, 4.85 ERA, 1.438 WHIP, 5.04 FIP)
Wednesday: Jake Arrieta, RHP (18-7, 2.85 ERA, 1.050 WHIP, 3.45 FIP) vs. Jameson Taillon, RHP (4-4, 3.49 ERA, 1.143 WHIP, 3.60 FIP)
Thursday: Rob Zastryzny, LHP (1-0, 1.46 ERA, 1.054 WHIP, 2.00 FIP) vs. Ivan Nova, RHP (12-8, 4.37 ERA, 1.270 WHIP, 4.20 FIP)
Times & TV channels
Monday: 6:10 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago
Tuesday: 6:10 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago
Wednesday: 6:10 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago
Thursday: 6:10 p.m. CT, WGN
If you look at the Pirates' pitchers for this series, that list is certainly not what the Bucs expected to have to lead them to a possible playoff spot. Not one of those pitchers was in the Pirates rotation when the season began, and only Taillon is expected to be a big part of their future. The Cubs are prepping for the postseason, so expect shorter outings than usual for their starters. Still, it should be enough for the Cubs to take three of four.
The Cubs head to Cincinnati to complete the regular season with a three-game series against the Reds, beginning Friday night.