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Series Preview: Cubs at Pirates, June 16 – June 18, 2017

Series Previews

Starting today, the Chicago Cubs are playing in 17 straight games with only three of them at home. They’ll play the Pirates for three starting this weekend, then head home to take on the Padres (3), before hitting the road for four against the Marlins, four against the Nationals, and three against the Reds.


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There’s just one more off-day before the All-Star Break. Now would be a good time to dial things up.

We’re Going Streaking

The Chicago Cubs (32-33) started their home stand as good as they could’ve hoped with five straight against the Cardinals and Marlins. But once they dropped the series finale against the fish, everything collapsed. They dropped three out of four in Colorado and two out of three in New York. The Cubs need to find a way to win on the road, because so far … it’s not working.

That the Pittsburgh Pirates (30-36) have just two fewer wins than the Cubs do at this point is absolutely, mind-numbingly painful. They may have some talent (I’m not arguing that), but they got off to the sort of start that makes you say, “I’m glad I’m not those guys ….” They’re 5-5 in their last 10 games.


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Location: PNC Park

Game Times and Broadcasts

  • Friday, June 16 at 6:05 CT on WGN 670 The Score
  • Saturday, June 17 at 7:15 CT on FOX, 670 The Score
  • Sunday, June 18 at 12:35 CT on CSN-C, 670 The Score

Expected Starters and Lineups

These lineups are likely to be pretty close to what gets fielded, but you’ll want to check each day’s Lineup or Pre-Gamin’ post for the actual lineup.

Chicago Cubs

Starters:

  • Eddie Butler (4.03 ERA, 4.13 FIP, 4.75 xFIP; 1.40 K/BB)
  • Jake Arrieta (4.68 ERA, 4.04 FIP, 3.81 xFIP; 3.43 K/BB)
  • John Lackey (5.26 ERA, 5.55 FIP, 4.30 xFIP; 3.17 K/BB)

Approximate Lineup:

  1. Anthony Rizzo, 1B?
  2. Ian Happ, CF
  3. Kris Bryant, 3B
  4. Jason Heyward, RF
  5. Willson Contreras, C
  6. Kyle Schwarber, LF
  7. Addison Russell, SS
  8. Pitcher
  9. Javy Baez, 2B

Right now, your guess is as good as mine. Anthony Rizzo may keep leading off, he may not. Ben Zobrist might return, he might not. Ian Happ might play center or second base, Javy Baez might play second base or shortstop, and Addison Russell might play shortstop or grab the bench.


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There’s just a lot of movement right now, so we’ll be anxiously awaiting that lineup later today.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Starters:

  • Trevor Williams (5.13 ERA, 4.82 FIP, 4.98 xFIP; 2.38 K/BB)
  • Ivan Nova (2.83 ERA, 3.53 FIP, 3.98 xFIP; 6.86 K/BB)
  • Jameson Taillon (2.90 ERA, 3.95 FIP, 3.84 xFIP; 2.33 K/BB)

Approximate Lineup:

  1. Adam Frazier, LF
  2. Josh Harrison, 2B
  3. Gregory Polanco, RF
  4. David Freese, 3B
  5. Josh Bell, 1B
  6. Andrew McCutchen, CF
  7. Francisco Cervelli, C
  8. Jordy Mercer, SS
  9. Pitcher

Note: Jung Ho Kang is still in Korea (and will be for quite some time), and Starling Marte is still under suspension.

Hot or Not and Whom to Watch

Chicago Cubs – Pitching

Eddie Butler is starting for the Cubs today, but I’ll leave some discussion on his last start later on. For now, just know that he’s had two fairly encouraging starts in a row after a streak of three bad ones. Like I said, we’ll dig in more later.


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For now, let’s talk about some relievers.

Wade Davis still has an ERA and FIP under 2.00 with a K/BB ratio over 4.00. Is there really anything more you can ask of your closer? Koji Uehara has also been quietly excellent out of the Cubs pen, having earned a 2.82 ERA (2.15 FIP) through his first 22.1 innings pitched. His 0.9 WAR is 9th best among relievers in the National League. Carl Edwards Jr. has also had a nice season, working with a 2.05 ERA through his 26.1 innings.

Pedro Strop on the other hand, is having his worst season with the Cubs, by ERA, FIP, and xFIP. His strikeout rate is down, his walk rate is up, and … well, wait a minute. While all of those previous statistics are accurate, there’s something interesting in Strop’s numbers. His line drive rate is WAY down, as is his fly ball rate. He’s also allowing a lot less hard contact and is getting more soft contact. His ground ball rate has also sky rocketed to 70.2% … almost all of which are good signs.

We don’t have enough space here, but we’ll have to look into his season, because suddenly, his numbers are very intriguing.


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Chicago Cubs – Offense

 

Anthony Rizzo loves leading off. We know that now.

But really, he just loves hitting. He’s working on a nine game hitting streak and has been absolutely on fire lately. In the month of June, for example, he’s hitting .364/.509/.705 with a 214 wRC+ and 3 home runs. His 15 homers are tied with Kris Bryant for the team lead and tied for 21st in MLB overall.

It’s not much of a sample (26 plate appearances), but Kyle Schwarber is hitting .304/.385/.783 over his last eight games and that’s not including the home run he was robbed of in New York. He may actually be turning a corner, but we’re not quite there just yet. Around 50 plate appearances, you can start getting a little more excited.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Pitching

On Sunday, the Chicago Cubs are facing Jameson Taillon, but don’t worry, I have him in my fantasy league, so the Cubs are obviously going to smoke him.


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I kid, of course, because Taillon is a really talented young pitcher who is having a pretty good season so far. He did just recently spend time on the disabled list (undergoing surgery for suspected testicular cancer), but he’s already made his first start since returning and it was a pretty good one against the Rockies: 5.0, 5H, 0ER, 2BB, 5K.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Offense

In his first fill season at the Major League level, Pirates first baseman Josh Bell is technically an above average hitter (101 wRC+). With that said, he is hitting just .233 with a .316 OBP, but he’s slugging enough (11 HRs, .210 ISO, .443 SLG) to keep his overall production respectable.

Andrew McCutchen is hitting .255/.331/.456 this season. That’s a 108 wRC+ and about what he put up last year. I know he’s on a divisional rival and I know he’s technically still hitting above average, but I’ll be pretty sad if last year really was the end of the Andrew McCutchen (as we knew him before). He was always such a fun player to watch (and is still an all-around great guy), but his peak may really be behind him. To be fair, he’s only 30 years old. He’s got plenty of time to flip the script, so to speak.


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Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @Michael_Cerami.