The Cubs keep squeaking by in series they should have been winning easily and now they’ve got four against the slumping Pirates in Pittsburgh. Following their hot start, the Pirates have fallen 13 games below .500 and are 9.5 games behind the Cubs in the standings. It’s wild to think the Pirates led the NL Central when the Cubs beat up on them back in June.
Sweeps against divisional opponents are hard to come by, yet the Cubs took six straight from the Pirates in the span of nine games. Depending on how you view your glass, that’s either really good or a harbinger of bad things to come. I tend to think the Cubs will use this set as a way to gain ground, provided other teams stop laying down for the Brewers.
Justin Steele is on the mound to start things off and he’s got a very favorable matchup with a team that ranks 22nd in MLB with a 92 wRC+ against lefties. Those numbers are even lower as Pittsburgh has gotten rusty in the second half, plus the Pirates haven’t seen Steele yet this season. The members of their roster have very little experience against him overall, which should bode well for the Cubs.
Nico Hoerner leads off at second, Dansby Swanson is at short, and Ian Happ is in left with Cody Bellinger in center. Seiya Suzuki is the DH, Yan Gomes is behind the plate, Jeimer Candelario is at first, Nick Madrigal plays third, and Mike Tauchman is in right.
They’re going up against former Cub Rob Zastryzny, who was the first pitcher drafted by Theo Epstein to make his way up to the big club. He was actually a teammate of Candelario’s in the minors with the Cubs and I interviewed the two of them back-to-back at Cubs Convention in 2017. Zastryzny is truly one of the best dudes you could ever hope to meet and it’s too bad the Cubs have to rough him up tonight.
His last two MLB appearances actually came against the Cubs back in mid-June and he was placed on the IL with left forearm inflammation immediately thereafter. Zastryzny was then DFA and outrighted to Triple-A Indianapolis in July and had his contract selected today to make the start.
This will be his first MLB start of the season and only the second of his career, the first of which came against the Pirates near the end of the ’16 season. He hasn’t completed two innings in any of his 33 total appearances this season and has just 33.1 innings total, so the Pirates are going with a bullpen game in this one. That bodes well for the Cubs tonight and over the course of the series.
As such, there’s not much use in breaking down Zaztryzny’s stuff or the matchup against him because he isn’t likely to turn the lineup over. But since he won’t be in there very long, I hope he does well and the Cubs destroy whoever follows him.
First pitch is at 6:05pm CT on Marquee and 670 The Score. The Iowa Cubs are taking on Pittsburgh’s Triple-A affiliate, the Indianapolis Indians at the same time and I’ll be in the crowd for that one. Probably should have picked a cooler night.