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Chicago Cubs vs. Pittsburgh Pirates preview, Friday 9/13, 3:05 CT

The Cubs open a crucial 10-game homestand Friday afternoon.

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Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Rather than the usual notes today, I thought I’d take a look at where the Cubs stood with 16 games to go in the season over the last few years.

2015: 85-61, seven games out of first place but comfortably in the lead for the second wild card by eight games.

2016: 93-53. They lost to the Brewers that night, but clinched the N.L. Central later that evening when the Cardinals lost to the Giants in San Francisco.

2017: 80-66. They were in the middle of a seven-game winning streak. They led the N.L. Central by three games with a magic number of 14.

2018: 85-61. They defeated the Nationals in Game 146, that game they had to fly to D.C. for one day for a makeup game, and led the N.L. Central by 1½ games, with a magic number of 15.

So this year is... different. At 78-68, the Cubs have their worst record after 146 games since they returned to contention in 2015. It’s the first time since 2015 that they haven’t been in first place after 146 games, and this year they’re vying for two different playoff spots, or possibly three, if they don’t win the division but somehow catch the Nats (currently 3½ games behind) for the top wild-card spot (Washington has the tiebreaker).

It’s a different feel, to be sure. And yet, with 10 home games remaining (where the Cubs have played extremely well this year) and seven games left with the team they’re chasing for first place, this season can still work out like the last three, with a division title and a date in a NLDS. This time, it would likely be with the Braves, whose magic number for clinching their division and the No. 2 seed in the N.L. playoffs is eight. (The Braves still have an outside shot at catching the Dodgers for the top seed. They’re four games behind with 16 to play, but would have to finish ahead of L.A., as the Dodgers have the tiebreaker.)

Fasten your seat belts, we have a tense two and a half weeks ahead.

Here are today’s particulars.

Cubs lineup:

Pirates lineup:

Jon Lester, LHP vs. Steven Brault, LHP

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

Jon Lester is an enigma right now. He’s had some really good starts lately (particularly the one against the Mariners September 3 at Wrigley Field), but also some clunkers, and his season ERA at this point is the second-worst of his career.

However, he’s been really good against the Pirates this year: 1.84 ERA in three starts, just three earned runs in 14⅔ innings.

I don’t have much more to go on for hoping Jon does well this afternoon, other than the fact that he usually steps up in big-game situations. Hopefully that happens again this afternoon.

Steven Brault threw seven innings against the Cubs August 17 at PNC Park and allowed just one run, one of his best starts of the year.

The good news is that the Cubs won that game 2-0, in part because his opponent that day was Jon Lester, and Jon kept pitching himself out of trouble.

Since that game Brault has been pretty mediocre: four starts, 4.37 ERA, 1.368 WHIP. Let’s hope that trend continues.

Today’s game is on NBC Sports Chicago. If you have “cut the cord,” NBC Sports Chicago games can be streamed in the Cubs’ market territory via Fubo. Sign up for Fubo here.

It’s also on MLB Network (outside the Cubs and Pirates market territories).

This game is also being carried by streaming service ESPN+ — sign up for ESPN+ here. ESPN+ games are blacked out in the participating teams’ home markets.

Here is the complete Mediacenter for today. Gameday game preview

SB Nation game preview

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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.