Series #7: Chasing the Cubs

Series Quick Look
Monday, April 24: Cubs 14, Pirates 3
Tuesday, April 25, 7:05PM

Wednesday, April 26, 7:05PM
at PNC Park, Pittsburgh, PA

The Pirates and Cubs will meet for the second series already this season with the Bucs shocking Chicago with a sweep last weekend in Wrigley Field. The Pirates came from behind in all three games at Wrigley with two of them being in the 7th inning or later. This early week three-game series will be games four, five and six of the 19 times the Bucs and Cubs play against each other in 2017. These two teams won’t see each other again until mid-June. The Pirates are two games behind the Cubs in a jam-packed NL Central through three weeks.

ALL-TIME RECORD: Pirates lead 1,264-1,198
Last matchup…April 14-16, 2017: Pirates swept the Cubs in Wrigley Field just a week ago.

About the Cubs:
Since being swept by the Pirates last weekend and dropping to 6-6 on the early season, the Cubs have gone 4-2. In the past week, they won a series each against the Brewers and the Reds in Cincinnati. This series is the middle series of a three-team, nine-game road trip with a weekend series coming up against the Red Sox after the Cubs leave Pittsburgh. The Cubs are 10-8 and a half game ahead of the Reds while the Pirates are two games back in the NL Central. Last year at this time, the Cubs were 13-5 after 18 games on way to a ridiculous 25-6 start. The Cubs are third in the National League in wRC+ (104) and that’s with Kris Bryant scuffling early with a 98 OPS+ through 18 games. They’re just middle of the road in the NL in pitching right now with Kyle Hendricks and Brett Anderson struggling early, two of the pitchers the Pirates are set to face this series.


4/24: RHP Chad Kuhl (2.60 ERA/2.84 FIP, 75 FIP-) vs.
LHP Brett Anderson (4.40 ERA/3.30 FIP, 85 FIP-)

With the loss of Jason Hammel in the offseason, the Cubs signed LHP Brett Anderson to a one-year/$3.5M to be their 5th starter and so far, he’s surpassed his innings total from 2016. Coming off an injury-filled season where he tossed just 11.1 innings, Anderson has made three starts and has held his own and may be a bit unlucky early on with 16 hits in 14.1 innings. Meanwhile for the Bucs, Kuhl will make his fourth start of 2017 and so far is off to a fabulous start. Kuhl has yet to a home run through three starts and has 14 strikeouts to seven walks in 17.1 innings. Despite a decent rookie campaign, Kuhl faced the Cubs three times in 2016 and did not fare well against them. He recorded a 10.45 ERA and three home runs in just 10 innings of work. Kuhl will get another shot at the mighty Cubs Monday night at PNC Park.

4/25: RHP Gerrit Cole (4.70 ERA/4.86 FIP, 127 FIP-) vs.
RHP Kyle Hendricks (6.19 ERA/5.84 FIP, 148 FIP-)

Tuesday’s game is a matchup of top pitchers that have not put up their usual great numbers early this season and a rematch from April 14. For Cole, he’s registered three quality starts since his falling apart in the 5th inning on Opening Day and looks to continue his nice run against the Cubs. Cole defeated the Cubs just 10 days ago on April 14 going six innings with two runs allowed and five strikeouts to one walk. Hendricks, on the other hand, was set for some regression this season after posting a 2.13 ERA last season, which was good for tops in the NL, but he’s off to a horrid start for the Cubs. He’s gone 6.0 innings just one in three starts and allowed three or four runs in all of his outings. Hendricks has surrendered four home runs and walking 3.9 batters, a big jump from his 2.1 last year. The Bucs scored three runs in 5.0 innings off him last week on six hits. While everyone expected some regression, there has to be some worried Cubs fans wondering if Hendricks was a one-year wonder.

4/26: RHP Tyler Glasnow (7.94 ERA/4.40 FIP, 115 FIP-) vs.
LHP Jon Lester (2.66 ERA/2.69 FIP, 69 FIP-)

The roller coaster that is Tyler Glasnow is coming to a ballpark near you and start four will hopefully be another step in the right direction. Glasnow has battled through some jams and shown positive signs (sometimes even looking brilliant), but his pitch count gets up early and often and he’s gone five innings once in three starts. He’s faced the Cubs last week in Wrigley, so this will be another difficult test for him. Let’s hope he continues to work the changeup in and keeping the hitters off balanced with it and the curve and not trying to blow everyone away with just gas. He’ll face Lester, who’s off to a great start and has been the Cubs best pitcher so far. He’s struck out 21 in 23.2 innings, and he blanked the Bucs on April 16 through seven innings before the bullpen gave up the lead and game. This’ll be a tough matchup for the Bucs with Glasnow facing the Cubs best pitcher to date.

TV (Monday): ROOT Sports Pittsburgh, WGN and ESPN (out-of-market only).
TV (Tuesday): ROOT Sports Pittsburgh and WGN
TV (Wednesday): ROOT Sports Pittsburgh and Comcast Sports Net Chicago.
Radio (All games): KDKA-FM 93.7


Jung Ho Kang (3B): Restricted List (March 11)—Work visa denied.
Starling Marte (CF): Suspended 80 games (April 18)—Use of PED’s.


Not only is Rizzo off to a stellar .296/.412/.535/.947 start this season, but he’s been even better versus the Pirates throughout his career. In 85 games against the Bucs (more than half of a season), the 27-year-old first baseman is hitting .317/.411/.589 for an even 1.000 OPS. He’s recorded 28 doubles and 19 home runs (10 of those coming in PNC Park) against Pittsburgh in what are numbers most players would take over the course of a season. Rizzo has clearly been a Pirates killer, and the Bucs pitching staff needs a find a way to get him out.

We’re going to leave this here again because David Freese continues to mash for the Pirates. With the loss of Marte to suspension, someone has to step up and Freese is that guy so far. Freese had more two hits Friday night against the Yankees and then homered on Saturday off Michael Pineda for his third blast of the season. Freese is 11th in the NL in wRC+ with a 161 mark and is walking at an elite rate (15.4%). Along with providing stellar defense at third, Freese continues to rake for the Bucs and faces another two lefties this series vs. the Cubs. Freese owns a lifetime .850 OPS against southpaws.

Last week, the Pirates trailed in all three games against the Cubs at Wrigley only to rally late to overcome a lot and sweep the Cubs. Two of those comebacks were against the Cubs less than stellar bullpen. While Wade Davis and Carl Edwards Jr have been superb out of the pen for Chicago, Grimm, Strop, Duensing haven’t been and the Pirates will need to capitalize on the front end of the bullpen again.

No, this isn’t some new advanced stat, it’s actually quite simple. Score runs to win ball games. The Bucs are 7-1 when they score four runs or more so far this season. And they’re 1-9 when they score three runs or less. This offense can go very cold at times and they’ve struggled with runners in scoring position, but with how great the pitching has been, four runs have been getting the job done. Sunday’s rubber match against the Yankees was the Pirates first victory when scoring under four runs in their 2-1 nail biting victory. Let’s not leave it up to that…get some runs this series.

It may come as a surprise considering Josh Bell‘s .684 OPS to start the year, but he’s leading the Bucs in average exit velocity at 89.7 mph. Bell’s approach at the plate looked horrible to start the season, but he’s slowing been looking better and when he gets a hold of a pitch, he’s ripped it so far. He has two doubles and two home runs in 50 at-bats this year and his EV shows that he could be one of the guys that helps carry the offensive load and drive in runs with Marte out for 80 games.

The Pirates have an off day scheduled on Thursday and then travel to South Beach to take on the Marlins in a three-game weekend series.

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