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Chicago Cubs vs. Pittsburgh Pirates preview, Friday 7/12, 1:20 CT

The second half begins with a key divisional matchup.

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

As we begin the traditional “second half” of the baseball season (really, a bit less than actually half), another essay from me in place of the usual notes.

The Cubs have struggled at times this year. Their 3-8 start was awful. But after that they went 26-10 and peaked at 11 games over .500 on May 22 at 29-18, two games in first place in the N.L. Central. Since that run they’ve gone 18-25, the second-worst record in the National League in that span (only the Mets are worse at 17-25), and yet... they’ve lost only 1½ games of that division lead.

That, of course, is largely because the other teams in the division have been pretty mediocre, not just during that last six weeks, but through the entire season.

We are used to seeing Cubs teams win 95 games a year, at least since Joe Maddon took over as manager. They’ve averaged almost 97 wins a year since 2015. It’s one of the best runs in Cubs history, including the World Series championship in 2016.

But it seems incomplete, without another title. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Cubs have the talent to go on another second-half run. Since 2015, the Cubs have posted a 189-103 record after the All-Star Break, 86 games above .500, a winning percentage of .647. Playing at that pace for the 72 games remaining would be a 47-25 record, which would make this a 94-win season. I’d think that would be enough to win the N.L. Central, especially since 45 of the 72 games will be against the four division rivals.

Which isn’t to say that the Cubs shouldn’t make changes before the single trading deadline of July 31. We discussed yesterday the need for a consistent leadoff hitter. The team needs more consistent starting pitching, too.

But all the N.L. Central teams have flaws. This could be one of those years where the divisional teams beat up on each other and someone (hopefully the Cubs) wins it with fewer than 90 wins, while still being able to match up with the other postseason teams. The Cubs are just 15-16 within the division, 32-27 outside it.

Anyway, there are some thoughts and some pertinent numbers. Now it’s time to play ball again. I’m ready. You?

Here are today’s particulars.

Cubs lineup:

Pirates lineup:

Yu Darvish, RHP vs. Chris Archer, RHP

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This afternoon’s game is a pitching rematch from the game July 3 at PNC Park, the last game started by both of these men. I point you to the BCB game preview for that game for more on Yu Darvish and Chris Archer.

Seriously, what more is there to say about these two pitchers? They have both had success in the past. They are both struggling this season. Darvish allowed four runs in 6x innings. Archer gave up three runs in five innings. Neither of those starts can be considered “bad,” but they’re really not “good,” either. Such is where we are, and the only thing I can really say about Darvish is that I hope he comes out of the break and has a great second half.

Oh, and the Cubs should have won that July 3 game, too, blowing a ninth-inning lead.

Today’s game is on NBC Sports Chicago. It’s also on MLB Network (outside the Cubs and Pirates market territories).

Here is the complete Mediacenter for today. Gameday game preview

SB Nation game preview

Please visit our SB Nation Pirates site Bucs Dugout. If you do go there to interact with Pirates fans, please be respectful, abide by their individual site rules and serve as a good representation of Cub fans in general and BCB in particular.

The 2019 Game Thread procedure will be the same as the one used in previous years. Here’s how it works.

You’ll find the game preview posted separately on the front page, two hours before game time (90 minutes for some early day games following night games).

At the same time, a StoryStream containing the preview will also post on the front page. The First Pitch Thread and all the overflow threads will be published in that stream, as well as the recap. The recap will also live on the front page as a separate post, and at the time I write the recap I will rename the stream “Cubs vs. (Team) (Day of Week) Game Threads” so you can go back and find every thread related to that particular game.

You will also be able to find the preview, First Pitch Thread, all the overflow threads and recap in the box marked “Chicago Cubs Game Threads” at the bottom of the front page (you can also find them in this section link). They will also appear in the game’s StoryStream as noted above.

The First Pitch thread will post at five minutes before game time, then an overflow thread at one hour, two hours and 2:45 after the scheduled game time.

Discuss amongst yourselves.