Pittsburgh Pirates set to square off with Chicago Cubs


After reeling off three-straight wins over the Milwaukee Brewers this weekend, the Pittsburgh Pirates are ready to welcome Joe Maddon and the Chicago Cubs to PNC Park for a four-game set in what should be a hard-fought series.

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Pittsburgh (6-6) is led offensively by the likes of Pedro Alvarez (.256 BA, 4 HR) and Starling Marte (seven RBI in his last three games) – but, overall, the team’s offense has failed to click to-date. That being said, the Pirates have figured some things out over the weekend, but it was against less-than-stellar competition in the lowly Brew Crew.

Chicago (6-5), meanwhile, is coming out of its first series loss of the season after dropping two-of-three to the new-look San Diego Padres at home. The series easily could have been a sweep for either team, but after Jon Lester failed to pitch late into a game for his third-straight start, the Cubs dropped the series finale on Sunday.

The Cubs have scored 43 runs so far this season, while Pittsburgh comes in ranking one spot lower with 41 tallies – although the Bucs have played one more game than Chicago. Both teams rank near the bottom of the National League in terms of on-base percentage, and in terms of pitching, the Pirates are over half-a-run better than the North Siders to this point.

Here’s a look at the pitching match-ups for the four-game set.

In the opener, Pittsburgh will turn to veteran A.J. Burnett, who has been solid in each of his first two starts. In his career, the right-hander is 7-4 with a 3.25 earned run average in 13 starts. He will be opposed by fellow right-hander Jake Arrieta, who is known as a much better pitcher at home than on the road – so pitching in Pittsburgh could be a factor on Monday.

Tuesday night will feature a pair of left-handers in Francisco Liriano and Travis Wood. The Pirates’ southpaw carries a 2.08 earned run average into the series, while Wood has been a mixed bag this season, but is coming off his best outing of the season.

Starlin Castro has been a catalyst for this Cubs team that was bolstered by the call-up of star prospect Kris Bryant this weekend. After three games, Bryant is batting .300 – and the series at PNC Park will be his first big league road trip.

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The Cubs have not yet announced their starter for Thursday night, but Vance Worley will take the ball for the Pirates looking to get back on track after a rocky start to the 2015 campaign. In his career in Pittsburgh, he’s pitched to a 6-2 record and a 2.28 ERA, so he could be set for a strong start this week against Chicago.

Jeff Locke will take the ball for the Bucs in the series finale against a still-to-be-determined arm for Chicago. The left-hander has been stellar this season, posting a 1.93 earned run average in a pair of starts. He appears poised to be back in All-Star form after a down year in 2014, so he’ll look to stay strong as the season progresses.

This series will be big for both teams as the Pirates look to keep climbing the NL Central standings, while the Cubs look to show the rest of baseball they’re ready to contend for a division crown for the first time in over a half-decade.

Next: Pirates complete three-game sweep of Brewers