Well, that series against the Reds left much to be desired. This is clearly not the same Cincy team we’ve become accustomed to the Cubs dominating, as they have provided an actual challenge this year. The same can be said about any opponent the Cubs have faced on the road, though, as the Cubs have lost five straight road series, going 4-12 in those games.
It has been three weeks since the Cubs last won a series (they split with the Mets and White Sox) at all and to say the team has been struggling recently is a bit of an understatement. The Cubs are tied with Milwaukee for first in the Central with a 45-39 record with six games left in the first half and they’ll look to end their road woes in the Steel City, where the Pirates await them for a four-game series.
The Buccos are one of the hottest teams in the league right now, with a 7-3 record in their last 10 games. And that’s after going 1-2 against the Brewers, losing 1-3 on Saturday and 1-2 on Sunday. Perhaps this indicates they’re ready for a six-game losing streak. Not exactly realistic, but stranger things have happened.
Oddly enough, there are only five batters who are worth more than 0.1 fWAR for Pittsburgh over the last two weeks. Kevin Newman (.360/.396/.640; 0.6 fWAR) leads the way for the Bucs. He is followed by Jacob Stallings (.778/.818/1.111; 0.5 fWAR in 11 plate appearances), Jose Osuna (.365/.429/.692; 0.4 fWAR), Corey Dickerson (.345/.406/..692; 0.4 fWAR), and Bryan Reynolds (.355/.447/..516; 0.3 fWAR).
In order for the Cubs to succeed this series, they’re going to have to limit these five players’ production at the plate. That shouldn’t be difficult with Stallings, who is the Pirates’ backup catcher and probably won’t appear in more than one game.
The Pirates’ pitching staff has been solid over the last couple weeks as well, led by Joe Musgrove (0.69 ERA; 9.00 K/9 in 13 innings) and Chris Archer (3.00 ERA; 11.00 K/9 in 9 innings). Given how familiar the Cubs are with these two, they should have solid gameplans devised already. Felipe Vazquez (0.00 ERA; 13.50 K/9) and Richard Rodriguez (0.00 ERA; 14.21 K/9) have been nails at the end of the bullpen, so it will be very difficult for the Cubs to engineer comebacks.
Given how poor the Cubs have played recently (4-6 in their last 10 games) and their struggles on the road, it’s not easy to be optimistic about this series. They should be able to win at least two of these games, but that’s going to depend on the offensive performance. If their struggles with men in scoring position continues, it is extremely likely that the Cubs end up losing another road series to an inferior opponent.
Game Time and Broadcast Info
- Monday, July 1 at 6:05 CT on NBC Sports Chicago and ESPN
- Tuesday, July 2 at 6:05 CT on NBC Sports Chicago
- Wednesday, July 3 at 6:05 CT on NBC Sports Chicago
- Thursday, July 4 at 3:05 on WGN and ESPN
What to Watch For
- You are probably sick of reading about this, but the Cubs are terrible with runners in scoring position. In the series against the Reds, they went 5-for26 (.192) in those situations. I can’t provide any words of wisdom to help them improve, aside from maintaining their approach as though they didn’t have men on base. If they can just be league average, they should not have any issues at least splitting this series.
- Hendricks will make his return on Tuesday, which I am very much looking forward to. It’s especially great because of Hamels’ recent trip to the IL.
- Be sure to check out Alzolay’s start on Tuesday. He could very well be the next Cubs long-term starter, if the hype and early performance is any indicator.