Series Preview: Cubs at Pirates, September 26 - September 29, 2016

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Series Preview: Cubs at Pirates, September 26 – September 29, 2016

Chicago Cubs

pirates parrot

We’re getting closer.

The Chicago Cubs completed their final home stand of the regular season, with a series win over the St. Louis Cardinals.

The final win was number 99 on the year, which is the most any Cubs team has recorded since 1935. One more win will tie them for fifth most in franchise history. The 1909 and 1910 Cubs are tied for third place with 104 wins, so with a little bit of luck, the Cubs can enter the top three by the end of next week.

They’ll have to take five of their next seven, though, starting with the Pirates at PNC.

We’re Going Streaking

The Chicago Cubs (99-56) just took two out of three from the Cardinals, dashing their playoff hopes just a bit, with a week’s worth of games remaining. They have clinched the best record in baseball, but are just one win shy of 100.

The Pittsburgh Pirates (77-78) are closing out what ultimately has to be labeled a very disappointing season. The NL Central did look tough at the beginning of the year, after the finish the top three teams had in 2015, but the Pirates faded relatively early and never bounced back. They are a game under .500 and will not be in the 2016 playoffs.

Game Times and Broadcasts

  • Monday, September 26 at 6:05 CT on CSN-C, 670 The Score
  • Tuesday, September 27 at 6:05 CT on CSN-C, 670 The Score
  • Wednesday, September 28 at 6:05 CT on CSN-C, 670 The Score
  • Thursday, September 29 at 6:05 CT on WGN, 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.



  • Kyle Hendricks (2.06 ERA, 3.54 FIP, 3.73 xFIP; 2.41 K/BB)
  • John Lackey (3.56 ERA, 4.40 FIP, 4.29 xFIP; 2.73 K/BB)
  • Jake Arrieta (2.36 ERA, 3.40 FIP, 3.45 xFIP; 3.83 K/BB)
  • Rob Zastryzny (1.46 ERA, 2.00 FIP, 3.49 xFIP; 4.33 K/BB)

Approximate Lineup:

  1. Dexter Fowler, CF
  2. Kris Bryant, 3B/LF
  3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
  4. Ben Zobrist, 2B/LF
  5. Addison Russell, SS
  6. Jason Heyward, RF
  7. Willson Contreras, C
  8. Javy Baez, 2B/3B
  9. Pitcher

Also, Jorge Soler, LF

Pittsburgh Pirates


  • Chad Kuhl (3.73 ERA, 3.90 FIP, 4.42 xFIP; 2.65 K/BB)
  • Ryan Vogelsong (4.85 ERA, 5.04 FIP, 4.89 xFIP; 1.72 K/BB)
  • Jameson Taillon (3.49 ERA, 3.60 FIP, 3.34 xFIP; 5.79 K/BB)
  • Ivan Nova (4.37 ERA, 4.20 FIP, 3.76 xFIP; 4.36 K/BB)

Approximate Lineup:

  1. Adam Frazier, 2B
  2. Francisco Cervelli, C
  3. Andrew McCutchen, CF
  4. Jung-Ho Kang, 3B
  5. Sean “The Champ” Rodriguez, SS
  6. Gregory Polanco, LF (Starling Marte is day-to-day)
  7. David Freese, 1B
  8. Josh Bell, RF
  9. Pitcher

Hot or Not and Whom to Watch

Chicago Cubs – Pitching

In an effort to better align the rotation for the postseason, the Chicago Cubs are going with a bullpen day this Thursday. That said, the game will have to be started by someone and that someone is Rob Zastryzny (who we’re going to call Rob from here on out, so I don’t have to keep typing Zastryzny). Although he made an appearance on Saturday, Rob hasn’t pitched a lot lately. But when he has pitched, he’s been very good.

In his 12.1 major league innings so far, Rob’s collected a 1.46 ERA, with a 2.00 FIP. Despite a perfectly average-ish BABIP (.294), opponents are hitting just .213 off him. He’s got an excellent strikeout rate (25.5%), a very good walk rate (5.9%), and a very nice 57.6% ground ball rate. In short, he’s just been good. His future with the Cubs might yet lie in the rotation, and he’ll get a shot to show what he can do this week against the Pirates. Of his seven appearances out of the Cubs pen, three have been multi-inning spots.

Jake Arrieta is also coming off what is possibly his best start of the season – he recorded a massive 22 whiffs – and a repeat would inspire a heck of a lot of confidence heading into the postseason.

Chicago Cubs – Offense

Jason Heyward’s nice little stretch of play hasn’t faded yet and we’re up to 36 plate appearances. During that stretch, he’s hitting .323/.417/.484 which is good for a 146 wRC+. Perhaps more encouragingly, he’s begun walking more (13.9%) and striking out less (13.9%). If you’re striking out less often and walking a lot more, that typically means your seeing the ball a bit better, and positive results can be taken a little bit more seriously.

I know (and genuinely agree) that Heyward will not earn our trust/confidence at the plate before the season is up, but there’s no use ignoring a very nice stretch as we enter an extremely critical stretch of games (the playoffs, that is) and there’s no reason not to be happy about it in the moment.

Compared to last season, Addison Russell has dropped his strikeout rate by six percentage points (which is just huge) and raised his walk rate by 1.2 percentage points. He’s got a .183 ISO and his hitting .244/.324/.427 overall with 21 home runs, despite a .284 BABIP that is well below what should be expected of him (given his past marks, how hard he hits the ball, and his relative speed).

Pittsburgh Pirates – Pitching

On Wednesday, the Cubs will send out Jake Arrieta to take on Jameson Taillon. Taillon has quietly had a very impressive rookie season with the Pirates (1.7 fWAR), collecting a 3.49 ERA (3.60 FIP, 3.34 xFIP) over 17 starts and just about 100 innings pitched. He’s got a healthy 52.1% ground ball rate, an (admittedly so-so) 20.5% strikeout rate and an absolutely minuscule 3.5% walk rate. The peripherals just look really good. In fact, if it weren’t for his unusually (and probably unsustainably high) 15.4% HR/FB ratio, the results would likely look a heck of a lot better.

He’ll be a thorn in the Cubs’ side over the next few years.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Offense

In his sufficiently shortened rookie season (108 games), Andrew McCutchen was worth a brilliant 3.4 WAR. He has never been worth less since, and even managed to reach 8.4 WAR in 2013. This year, however, things have gone sideways. Despite appearing in nearly 150 games already, McCutchen has been worth just 1.4 WAR. His offense (while still above average) has taken a huge hit (110 wRC+) and his defense has not been rated nicely by the advanced metrics.

He’s always a dangerous player, but 2016 just wasn’t his year.

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Author: Michael Cerami

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