Series Preview: Pirates at Cubs, June 17 - June 19, 2016

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Series Preview: Pirates at Cubs, June 17 – June 19, 2016

Chicago Cubs

pirates parrotAfter dropping a really exciting series in Washington, the Chicago Cubs head home for a six game home stand against their two biggest competitors in the NL Central, the Pirates and Cardinals.

They’ll play the Cardinals from Monday through Wednesday, but first they get the Pirates over the weekend, starting today with Jake Arrieta v. Francisco Liriano (and hey! Brett and I will be there).

The Pirates haven’t really been themselves lately (or what we thought “themselves” meant for the Pirates), but they just feel like one of those teams that will rise to the occasion for a big series, don’t they? We’ll see, I suppose, because seriously … they’ve taken quite a dive lately.

We’re Going Streaking

The Cubs (44-20) dropped two out of three from the Washington Nationals, but it just as easily could have gone the other way. Even still, things are looking mighty good for the North-Siders, who have a commanding 12.0 game lead over their competition this weekend.

Yep, the Pirates (33-33) are in third place and are 12 games behind the Chicago Cubs in mid-June. A truth, which, I don’t think anyone saw coming, at least this soon. The Pirates just lost two out of three to the Mets, after getting swept by the Cardinals, and are just 4-11 in the month of May. We’ll get to the why of that skid later, but just know they’ve had a rough go of it lately.

Game Times and Broadcasts

  • Friday, June 16 at 1:20 CT on ABC-7, MLBN, 670 The Score
  • Saturday, June 17 at 7:15 CT on FOX, 670 The Score
  • Sunday, June 18 at 7:08 CT on ESPN, 670 The Score

Expected Starters and Lineups

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

Chicago Cubs


  • Jake Arrieta (1.86 ERA, 2.58 FIP, 3.12 xFIP; 3.21 K/BB)
  • Jon Lester (1.89 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 3.18 xFIP; 5.00 K/BB)
  • Kyle Hendricks (3.05 ERA, 3.30 FIP; 3.644 xFIP; 3.21 K/BB)

Approximate Lineup:

  1. Dexter Fowler, CF
  2. Jason Heyward, RF
  3. Kris Bryant, LF
  4. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
  5. Ben Zobrist, 2B
  6. Javy Baez, 3B (or Albert Almora, Matt Szczur, Chris Coghlan)
  7. Addison Russell, SS
  8. Miguel Montero, C (or David Ross, Willson Contreras)
  9. Pitcher

Pittsburgh Pirates


  • Francisco Liriano (4.92 ERA, 5.53 FIP, 4.46 xFIP; 1.66 K/BB)
  • Jon Niese (4.60 ERA, 5.21 FIP, 4.24 xFIP; 2.16 K/BB)
  • Jameson Taillon (1.93 ERA, 3.78 FIP, 3.67 xFIP; 2.67 K/BB)

Approximate Lineup:

  1. John Jason, 1B
  2. Gregory Polanco, RF
  3. Andrew McCutchen, CF
  4. Jung Ho Kang, 3B
  5. Starling Marte, LF
  6. Josh Harrison, 2B
  7. Jordy Mercer, SS
  8. Erik Kratz, C
  9. Pitcher

Hot or Not and Whom to Watch

Chicago Cubs – Pitching

Although the entirety of the Cubs starting staff has been pitching excellently, Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester are quite clearly in a league of their own. They didn’t get a chance to help out in the Nationals series, of course, which means that they’ll be champing at the bit to get out there this weekend. First up is Jake Arrieta, who may give the Pirates some particular trouble.

Since the beginning of May, Jake has thrown 51.0 innings across 13 starts. And although his ERA goes up a bit in that stretch (to a scary 2.47 – ooooh), his FIP (2.35) actually comes down. He’s faced the Pirates twice already this season, going 15 innings, while giving up just 5 hits and 2 earned runs against 16 strikeouts to just 4 walks. I like this matchup for the Cubs.

It turns out Hector Rondon is human, after all. Over the weekend, Rondon blew his first two saves of the season, although he ended up with the win on Tuesday. Even still, his slash line is still pretty overall (1.57/1.88/2.03), even if it looks a bit worse since the beginning of June (5.2 IP): 3.18 ERA/4.20 FIP/3.64 xFIP.

Chicago Cubs – Offense

Without looking, can you guess who’s got the better season overall, right now, Anthony Rizzo or Kris Bryant? Below are there overall slash lines:

  • Anthony Rizzo: .260/.381/.529, 15 HR (.385 wOBA); 13.2% BB-rate, 13.6% K-rate
  • Kris Bryant: .273/.360/.514, 15 HR (.373 wOBA); 9.9% BB-rate, 22.6% K-rate

It’s pretty close, but Rizzo beats Bryant out by a hair, in part due to a great month of June that has seen Rizzo slash .347/.396/.673 with four home runs and four doubles in over 50 plate appearances. That’ll work in the heart of the lineup.

You know who else’s slash line I love in the month of June? Jason Heyward. In his last 60 plate appearances, Heyward has slashed an excellent .278/.350/.500. If he can keep up his recent trend of offense, he’s going to be yet another force in a lineup full of hot bats.

It isn’t all good, though. In his month of June, Dexter Fowler has slashed just .204/.254/.333. Although he’s had a .270 BABIP (which is low for him), the 1.7% walk rate and 28.8 strike out rate are a bit concerning. Hopefully he gets things going again against a beatable Pirates pitching staff.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Pitching

I said I was going to explain why the Pirates had struggled so badly lately, right? Well this is why.

Pirates Starting Staff:

  • ERA: 4.50 (28th)
  • FIP: 4.71 (25th)
  • fWAR: 1.4 (28th)

It obviously goes much deeper than that, but suffice it to say, they’ve had serious struggles with their starting pitching. Which means, of course, the Cubs will have to beat them with their bats, starting today against Francisco Liriano.

Although Liriano has had the Cubs number in the past, he’s a different pitcher in 2016. So far, he’s got an ERA just under 5.00 and a walk rate just over 13%. In fact, the Cubs, themselves, roughed up Liriano earlier this season for 8 runs on 9 hits and 4 walks in just 4.2 innings.

That said, the Pirates recently called up a top pitching prospect in Jameson Taillon, and he’s impressed in his two starts so far: 1.93 ERA over 14.0 innings pitched. In fact, his last time out against the Mets, Taillon took a no-hitter into the 7th inning. He’s still just 24 years old and could be a nice, high-upside cog in the middle of the Pirates rotation, which could go a long way to turning their season around (and that’s without mentioning Tyler Glasnow, an even better top pitching prospect lurking in Triple-A. That’s a conversation for another time, though).

Pittsburgh Pirates – Offense

Since June 1, Sean Rodriguez is hitting just .189/.189/.297 with a 0.00% walk rate and a 40.5% K-rate. There are far more important everyday players on the Pirates to discuss, but I just wanted to make sure we all knew that (in case you needed a nefarious smile).

After five straight seasons of at least 5.5 WAR, Andrew McCutchen hasn’t quite been himself. On the season, he’s hitting just .242/.319/.418 with a walk rate (9.5%) far lower than his career average (11.9%) and a strikeout rate (24.6%) far higher (17.7%). In June, his numbers get worse (almost scary): .185/.241/.278; 6.9% BB-rate, 31.0% K-rate. He did get off to a slow start in 2015, too, though, ultimately finishing strong – so let’s just hope he doesn’t start this weekend. 

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami