Division Bell: Cubs at Pirates Series Preview

 vs. 

RECORDS: Cubs 75-61   Pirates 65-72

GAMETIMES: 3:05 Monday, 6:05 Tuesday-Thursday

TV: ABC Monday, CSN Tuesday and Thursday, WGN Wednesday

MORE WORRIED ABOUT LE’VEON NOW: Bucs Dugout

PITCHING MATCHUPS

Arrieta v. Kuhl

Hendricks v. Brault

Quintana v. Cole

Lester v. Taillon

The Cubs begin the runway to what we hope is cinching up the division. Before the Brewers arrive on Friday for what is still going to be a big series (would have gotten long odds on that about a month ago) they’ll get four games against a team they just eviscerated for a sweep at home. Since that sweep by the Bucs at Wrigley in the season’s opening throes, the Cubs have won eight of twelve against a team that certainly is now just running out the clock and doesn’t look happy to be doing even that.

For the Cubs, a couple questions that will take some watching. Javy Baez is back in the lineup one day after getting domed by the kneecap of Ozzie Albies. While none of us are in the trainer’s room and can only take Baez at his word, one day after having blurred vision doesn’t seem like he’s going to be tip top. But the Cubs don’t have an alternative, and they haven’t given themselves the breathing room where they can take their time with a square peg at short to give Javy the time he probably requires.

Another thing to watch will be Jon Lester, who came back from his “fatigue” and was battered around by the Braves on an admittedly launchpad day at Wrigley on Saturday. His velocity was fine, which is probably the best indicator, but his spotting wasn’t which you’d expect after a break he’s almost never taken in his career. We’ll all feel better if he can keep the Pirates down on Thursday night.

On the other side, nothing much has changed for the Pirates other than one in the rotation. Ivan Nova, who has been human kerosene for weeks now, is being skipped in the rotation in favor of Steven “I Have Five” Brault, who put up some serious numbers in AAA this year before joining the Pirates’ bullpen. Brault doesn’t strike an inordinate number of hitters out but does get a heavy dose of grounders which was something of a Pirates special a couple years ago. That seems to be something of a change from last year when Brault did strike out over 10 hitters per nine innings.

That’s one of the few things left to watch for the yellow and black. This could be the last time the Cubs see Andrew McCutchen in a Pirates uniform, which is just sad no matter what side you’re coming to it from. Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams continue to try and figure out how to fit what is plus-stuff for both of them into the frame of effective pitchers to slot behind Taillon and Cole next year, which is about the Pirates’ only hope of hanging with the Cubs and Brewers next season.

A couple more kids will be in the lineup, as Max Moroff has taken over at second with Josh Harrison on the DL thanks to a broken hand. Moroff showed surprising pop in AAA this year with 13 homers in just 51 games as he had his own injury problems. Jordan Luplow is another who will see time in right now that Gregory Polanco is perma-crocked. Ludlow tore apart both AA and AAA this year, but hadn’t been above High-A before this season. It’s been a whirlwind for him for sure, but it’s not like the Pirates have anything to lose by tossing him into the deep end for the last month and see what they have. Josh Bell remains hot, and has done enough damage to the Cubs this year already. Maybe the Bucs can unearth some more hope in the season’s last four weeks. Lord knows they could use it.

With the Brewers playing the Reds before they roll into Wrigley at the weekend to complain some more, there can be no taking off the gas here. If the Cubs can maintain this three-and-a-half game lead into the series at home, and then take that to be up 4.5 with only three weeks remaining, that’s a pretty big lead. Especially when you have the Mets and Cardinals following it up. So do that.

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