Pittsburgh Pirates to Host Four-Game Series Against the Chicago Cubs

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 03: Starling Marte /

The Pittsburgh Pirates continue their seven-game home stand with a four-game series against the Chicago Cubs that begins at 4:05 this afternoon

As the 2017 Major League Baseball regular season winds down the Pittsburgh Pirates find themselves with a 65-72 record. This 65-72 record includes the Bucs being 7-8 against the Chicago Cubs, who the Pirates begin a four-game series with this afternoon.

The Chicago Cubs enter this series first place in the National League Central with a record of 75-61. Surprisingly it has taken most of the season, but the Cubs are beginning to run away with the NL Central. With four weeks now left in the season, the Cubs own a 3.5 game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers and this is a lead that keeps growing.

To begin this four-game series, the Pittsburgh Pirates will send Chad Kuhl to the mound this afternoon. In 27 starts this season Kuhl has pitched 134 2/3 innings and he owns a 4.54 ERA. However, he has pitched better than his ERA indicates.

Kuhl owns a 4.03 FIP and a 1.9 fWAR. His 7.82 K/9 is more than an extra strikeout per 9 innings pitched over last season, however, his 4.08 BB/9 is nearly double his walk rate of a year ago. While his 0.80 HR/9 has dropped from 0.89 HR/9 last season, his 42.8 percent groundball rate is down as well.

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While Chad Kuhl has been better against left-handed hitters in recent months, lefties remain his biggest kryptonite. Left-handed hitters own a 36.4 percent hard contact rate, .381 on-base percentage, .514 slugging percentage, and a .375 wOBA against Kuhl this season.

His struggles against left-handed hitters is a big reason why Kuhl has struggled so much against the Chicago Cubs in his career. Hitters such as Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward, Jon Jay, and Kyle Schwarber pose a major problem for Kuhl against the Cubs. And that goes without mentioning defending league MVP Kris Bryant.

The future of Chad Kuhl remains unknown. While he is under team control through the 2022 season, his best role is still to be determined. Kuhl has been more than suitable as a back of the rotation starting pitcher. However, the Pirates have more than enough of these arms. Kuhl could be a dominant relief pitcher and this is a route the Pirates may yet go. If Chad Kuhl wants to remain in the rotation for the long haul, he needs to finish 2017 strong.

As for the Cubs, they will send one of the Pirates’ arch nemesis to the mound this afternoon – Jake Arrieta. While Arrieta has not been his usual dominant self in 2017 he is still having a very strong season.

CHICAGO, IL – AUGUST 29: Starting pitcher Jake Arrieta
CHICAGO, IL – AUGUST 29: Starting pitcher Jake Arrieta /

In 27 starts, 158 innings pitched, Arrieta owns a 3.36 ERA and a 3.86 FIP. He is averaging 8.72 K/9, 2.96 BB/9, he has allowed just 135 hits, and he owns a 2.8 fWAR. The home run ball has been a bit of an issue for Arrieta as his 1.03 HR/9 is his highest since 2013.

As always against Arrieta, the Pirates will have their hand’s full on Monday afternoon.

One Pirate hitter worth keeping an eye on this afternoon is first baseman Josh Bell. Due to it being a small sample size I am not a believer in pitcher v. hitter stats. That said, Bell has crushed Jake Arrieta in his career.

Josh Bell has slugged .846 with a home run and four walks in his career against Jake Arrieta. Furthermore, Bell has been the Pirates’ best hitter for well over a month. In 161 plate appearances since July 21 Bell owns a .385 on-base percentage, .532 slugging percentage, .383 wOBA, a 137 wRC+, and he owns a fantastic 20:21 walk-to-strikeout ratio.

Bell currently sits three home runs shy of tying Jason Bay‘s record for home runs by a Pirate rookie. If Bell continues to hit the way he has the past seven weeks this record will fall before the end of September.

Outside of Bell, no one in the Pirate lineup is really hitting right now. Since the start of August Andrew McCutchen owns a .245 wOBA and a wRC+ of 47, David Freese is .302 and 84, Jordy Mercer is .286 and 74, Elias Diaz is .197 and 15, and Chris Stewart is .157 and – 11.

The only other Pirate regular that has been even league average since August 1 is Starling Marte who owns a .343 on-base percentage, .324 wOBA, and a wRC+ of 98. While in a limited role John Jaso owns a .463 on-base percentage, .418 wOBA, and a 161 wRC+ since August 1.

If the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to finish September, and in turn the 2017 season, strong then their offense must improve greatly over what it has done the past month.

Next: September is the Month of Opportunity for Max Moroff

One series into the season’s final month the Pirates own a 2-1 record in September. Hopefully, the Bucs can play good baseball in September and finish the season strong. Doing this could catapult the Pirates into bigger and better things in 2018.

It would also be nice to see the Pirates finish the season with a winning record against the Cubs. Currently sitting at 7-8 against the Cubs, the Bucs need to take three of four to make that happen as this is the final series of the season between the two teams.