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On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Pirates Series Preview

The Bucs are off to a rough start in 2017.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

After three straight playoff seasons, the Pirates slipped badly in 2016 and finished under .500.

Now they’re off to a 3-6 start and just got swept by the Reds — at home. Then they played a rainout makeup game in Boston Thursday and blew a late lead and lost. You can imagine they won’t be a happy team coming to Wrigley Friday.

I asked Eli Nellis, an editor at our SB Nation Pirates site Bucs Dugout, to tell us a bit about his team:

After so many years of irrelevance, I didn’t think Pirates fans could get so sour on a borderline-competitive team so quickly, but here we are. The national media is probably a little higher on the team, actually, than a lot of the Pirates’ own fans. I can’t decide whether this speaks a deeper truth about the team’s flaws, exposed to the everyday fan, or is just a symptom of a fanbase conditioned toward negativity and a distrust of management.

I was really looking forward to the Pirates having another go at it with a pretty solid offense. Of course, Jung-Ho Kang’s uncertain status throws this for a loop. Still, it isn’t that crazy to foresee continued progress from Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco and a strong full season from Josh Bell to carry the load. Plus, Andrew McCutchen can’t possibly be as bad as he was last year, right? He’s handled the offseason near-trade and a (long warranted) move to right field better than anyone could reasonably expect, at least publicly.

“He’s got a lollipop arm; why right field?” the astute Cubs fan might ask. Well, Statcast told the Pirates Cutch is much better on balls to his right.

The pitching staff has a wide range of possible outcomes. Gerrit Cole, when good, hasn’t become a capital-A ace, and you don’t know what you’re getting year-to-year. Jameson Taillon is a second-year starting pitcher, which is naturally a little frightening. Ivan Nova pulled a J.A. Happ, except he stuck around at a discount. Tyler Glasnow is as gifted as pitchers come, but has a lot of loose ends to tie up. There’s a safety net of useful enough high-minors depth, but the Pirates need a lot of this to go right to stick in any kind of postseason race. That isn’t even getting into the bullpen – Felipe Rivero is going to be very good at some point, Tony Watson is OK. Beyond that, it’s a bullpen. Who knows?

I can be a pretty amenable guy, and I spend a lot of time at PNC Park. I have grumpy old friends telling me it’s going to be a long season and I have eternal optimists convinced the Bucs are playoff-bound. I tend to just agree with them, on both sides. This year, though, I simply don’t know which side I fall on.

Fun fact

This might not be so much fun for the Pirates, but the Reds had fun with Pittsburgh’s pitching staff this week, outscoring them 22-5 in a three-game sweep. Hopefully the Cubs can have similar fun this weekend.

Pitching matchups

Friday: Kyle Hendricks (1-0, 6.00 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, 5.79 FIP) vs. Gerrit Cole (0-1, 6.55 ERA, 1.636 WHIP, 6.23 FIP)

Saturday: Jake Arrieta (2-0, 2.08 ERA, 0.846 WHIP, 2.65 FIP) vs. Tyler Glasnow (0-1, 27.00 ERA, 5.400 WHIP, 10.76 FIP)

Sunday: Jon Lester (0-0, 1.64 ERA, 1.273 WHIP, 1.23 FIP) vs. Jameson Taillon (0-0, 1.38 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, 3.57 FIP)

Times & TV channels

Friday: 1:20 p.m. CT, WGN, MLB Network (outside Chicago and Pittsburgh markets)

Saturday: 1:20 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago

Sunday: 1:20 p.m. CT, WGN


Two out of three has been the rule of the Cubs season so far. So, that seems like a reasonable forecast for this one.

Up next

The Cubs host the Milwaukee Brewers for a three-game series beginning Monday night.


How many games will the Cubs win against the Pirates?

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