The Chicago Cubs are just 3 1/2 games out of first place in the National League Central entering Tuesday night's matchup against the Pirates. Chicago swept the Pirates last week at Wrigley and blew them out on Monday at PNC Park and now hand the ball to NL Cy Young candidate Marcus Stroman in the second game of the series.
The Cubs' recent stretch of strong play comes on the heels of a particularly disappointing run and instead of creating distance between themselves and the rest of the weak division, they spent the last week trying to claw their way back into the hunt. But given the poor play of the NL Central, one key metric suggests Chicago may be the best positioned to make a run down the stretch: run differential.
Note: All run differential figures are current as of 6/20/23
NL Central standings ordered by run differential: #5 - Pittsburgh Pirates
After a surprisingly strong start to the year, the Pittsburgh Pirates are free-falling since the start of May. Derek Shelton's club went 8-18 in May and are just 6-10 here in June, losers of four straight to the Cubs and seven straight overall.
Pittsburgh has a -32 run differential on the year; and if you dig into the numbers a bit more, you see a team that ranks ninth in the NL in OPS, but just 12th in runs. On the pitching side of the equation, it's a very middle-of-the-pack pitching performance from the Bucs, with a team ERA that ranks eighth in the Senior Circuit.
The club promoted top prospect Henry Davis for the series opener this week at PNC Park in hopes his powerful bat can jump-start the Pirates offense. But the feel-good vibes have worn off and this is a team searching for answers as the All-Star Break approaches.