Mired in the midst of a season-worst six-game losing streak, which is comprised of back-to-back three-game sweeps, the Chicago Cubs are looking to get back on the right track in hopes of playing spoiler for the several National League Central clubs vying for a postseason berth. On Friday, that team will be the Pittsburgh Pirates.
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Chicago plays division foes in 12 of its final 16 games this season, beginning with the three-game set in Pittsburgh. Clint Hurdle‘s Pirates were the team that started the Cubs’ current skid, just days after Chicago took three in a row from Milwaukee at home. So far this season, Ricky Renteria’s young club has been dominated consistently by the Pirates, going just 4-12 – its worst mark against any division rival.
However, with Pittsburgh just three games behind St. Louis for the NL Central lead, holding on to a slim lead for the second National League Wild Card berth, the Cubs’ young prospects will get a chance to taste the playoff atmosphere over the weekend.
The opener will feature left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada (4-2, 2.95 ERA) squaring off against Gerrit Cole (8-5, 3.89 ERA) for a 6:05 p.m. CT start. Wada left his last start after 3 2/3 innings of work due to left leg cramping, but he has been solid since his promotion from Triple-A Iowa, where he went 10-6 with a 2.77 ERA in 113 2/3 innings, during which he struck out 120 hitters and posted a 1.161 WHIP. His future with the Cubs remains unclear, but in his final handful of starts, he’ll surely be looking to continue pitching well.
Cole, who pitched the finale against the Cubs at Wrigley last weekend, struck out eight and allowed three earned, also clubbing his first big league home run in a 10-4 route of Chicago.
Something to keep an eye on as this series progresses will be the possible return of Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who said recently that he is eyeing a potential weekend return. His teammate Starlin Castro appears unlikely to see the field anytime soon as he continues to recover from a high ankle sprain he sustained recently.
Another left-hander will toe the rubber for Chicago in Saturday night’s contest. Former Boston Red Sox southpaw Felix Doubront (3-5, 5.43 ERA) will make his third start of the year for the Cubs. His last time out was inefficient, as he needed 64 pitches to get through the first three innings of the contest. Since being added to the Cubs’ big league roster, Doubront has allowed three earned in 12 innings of work, striking out five and walking three.
He will be opposed by another left-hander, Jeff Locke (7-4, 3.60 ERA) – who set down the first ten and final ten batters he faced against Philadelphia on Monday. He allowed just three hits and one earned runs – all of which came during a four-batter span in the fourth inning of the contest.
Away from Wrigley Field this year, the Cubs have struggled mightily, playing to a 29-46 mark – as opposed to a respectable 35-36 mark at the Friendly Confines. After an impressive month of August in which the team went 16-14, things are off to a rocky start in September, as the club is just 3-6. In those nine contests, Chicago has been outscored by a 53-27 margin.
Another still-unproven arm will take the ball in Sunday afternoon’s finale, as right-hander Jacob Turner (5-9, 5.84 ERA) starts for Chicago. Against Toronto his last time out, he lasted six innings, allowing seven hits and four earned runs. In three starts with the Cubs this season, Turner is 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA.
He will be opposed by right-hander Edinson Volquez (11-7, 3.36 ERA), who was hit with his second straight no-decision his last time out. He departed after throwing 92 pitches in six innings of work, capping off an impressive string of 14 starts during which he has a 2.18 ERA and a 7-1 record.
As the playoff races heat up across the league, the Cubs have an opportunity to learn and compete at a high level. But if they continue their recent performance, it could be a long final three weeks. The first step in getting back on the right path begins in Pittsburgh Friday.