Cubs/Pirates Preview 8/3

Courtesy of Pittsburgh Pirates
Courtesy of Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates return home from a 4-2 road trip to begin a 6 game homestand tonight as they host the Chicago Cubs in a 3 game series at PNC Park. First pitch is set for 7:05. The weather forecast is calling for rain to move out of the area around game time, with only a 15% chance of showers before 11PM. Francisco Liriano (7-6, 2.92 ERA) faces Jon Lester (6-8, 3.26 ERA). The Pirates will look to extend their lead in the NL Wild Card race over the Cubs, which currently is at 4 games. The Pirates are coming off of a 4 game series split with the Cincinnati Reds, taking yesterday’s game, 3-0 behind 7 strong innings from Charlie Morton. The Cubs have won 5 straight, and swept the Milwaukee Brewers in a 4 game series at Wrigley Field.
Let’s look at how both teams stand going into tonight’s game. For the Cubs, they will have the services of rookie phenom Kris Bryant tonight. Bryant was questionable after leaving Sunday’s game in the 5th inning because of dizziness, but was cleared after successfully undergoing MLB’s concussion protocol earlier today. He will bat 3rd. And that’s good news for the Cubs, as Bryant owns a .400 BA, and a 1.063 OPS with 1 HR, 3 doubles, 10 BB, and 10 RBI in 44 plate appearances against the Bucs in 2015. For the season, Bryant is batting .246 with a .790 OPS. He has 14 HR and 64 RBI. Also enjoying success against the Pirates this season is Anthony Rizzo who brings a .401 BA, and a 1.015 OPS, with 1 HR, 2 doubles, 3 SB and 5 RBI in 43 plate appearances. Rizzo will follow Bryant, batting cleanup tonight. Another Cub to watch is Dexter Fowler, who will bat leadoff tonight. Fowler owns a .398 BA against the Pirates in 2015, with an .897 OPS and 4 SB. It will be vitally important to keep the top of the Cubs order off of the basepaths tonight. Starter Lester is 2-4 in his last 10 starts, but don’t be mistaken by that stat. He’s won 2 of his last 3 starts, and has allowed only 8 ER in July over a span of 43.1 innings. Even more impressive are his 50 strikeouts versus just 5 BB. Francisco Liriano has had success against this Cubs lineup. The two Cubs that seem to give Liriano the most problems are Fowler and Rizzo. Fowler has faced Liriano only 9 times, but has 4 BB and a single against him for a .756 OPS. Rizzo is only batting .200 against Liriano, but has a HR and 3 RBI. The Cubs lineup is as follows;

Dexter Fowler CF
Chris Denorfia LF
Kris Bryant 3B
Anthony Rizzo 1B
Jorge Soler RF
Starlin Castro SS
David Ross C
Jon Lester P
Addison Russell 2B

For the Pirates, there’s not a whole lot of success against Lester. In fact, Sean Rodriguez, who starts at 2B tonight, is the most familiar with Lester. Rodriguez has posted a .242 BA, and a .774 OPS with 1 HR, 3 doubles, 5 RBI, 4 BB, and 3 SB in 40 career plate appearances against Lester. He’ll bat eighth tonight, with Neil Walker getting the night off. The Pirates lineup looks like this;

Gregory Polanco RF
Starling Marte LF
Andrew McCutchen CF
Aramis Ramirez 3B
Jung Ho Kang SS
Francisco Cervelli C
Michael Morse 1B
Sean Rodriguez 2B
Francisco Liriano P

A couple notes; Jung Ho Kang was named today as the NL Rookie of the Month for July. Kang hit .379 with 13 extra base hits. AJ Burnett was diagnosed with a flexor strain in his right elbow. He’ll get it treated, and is expected to return in 4 weeks. This could be a blessing in disguise for the Pirates as Burnett has not pitched well since the All Star break and will get a chance to rest, and presumably returning in time for the stretch drive and, hopefully for Pirates fans, the playoffs. Jaff Decker was sent back to AAA Indianapolis to make room for Michael Morse.


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