McCutchen, Polanco look to lead Pirates to series win vs. Cubs (Jun 18, 2017)

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Pirates saw plenty of good things from Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco on Saturday.

The Pirates will look for more of the same from their center fielder and right fielder Sunday when they host the Chicago Cubs in the rubber game of a three-game series.

Pittsburgh (31-37) rebounded from allowing six runs in the ninth inning of Friday’s 9-5 loss with a 4-3 victory Saturday. Among the reasons the Pirates won were productive showings from McCutchen and Polanco.

McCutchen hit his 12th homer in the sixth inning off Justin Grimm and is on an eight-game hitting streak. During this streak, McCutchen is batting .467 (14-for-30) and .417 (20-for-48) in his last 12 contests.

Despite those productive numbers, McCutchen did his best to downplay a recent surge that has lifted his average to .260.

“Just move on. Just go out and try and win the ballgame,” McCutchen said. “Baseball is baseball. A guy can be 0 for 15, go out and have a great game.”

Polanco has struggled through the first half of the season, but started strong Saturday, when he hit a two-run home run in the first inning and a double in the third.

Before his first homer since May 28 against the New York Mets, Polanco was hitless in his last 12 at-bats. He is 5-for-35 in his last eight games since a three-hit showing on June 27.

The struggles for Polanco are part of his inconsistencies. In May, he batted .310 (18-for-58) with three homers in 18 games and in 12 games this month, Polanco is 9-for-53 (.170)

“Some real good at bats from Gregory,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “Sweet swing on the homer, the double. To get an intentional walk, he hasn’t been in that position. Just put him on and pass on him. He’s continued to work hard (and he) did some quality work out there today.”

Cubs right-hander John Lackey (4-7, 5.26 ERA) will attempt to cool McCutchen. Since his last win on May 16, Lackey is 0-4 with a 6.75 ERA in five starts.

He last pitched Monday in a 6-1 loss to the New York Mets. He allowed four runs, all on homers to continue a new trend.

This season, Lackey has allowed 19 homers in 75 1/3 innings after allowing 23 last season in 188 1/3 innings. He is allowing 2.27 homers per nine innings, which is more than his career rate of 0.98.

Lackey is 2-2 with a 3.48 ERA in seven career starts against Pittsburgh. In four of those starts, Lackey has held the Pirates to one run and two of those starts, he allowed five runs.

Chicago (33-34) could gain some much-needed consistency with a win. It hasn’t won consecutive games since they won five straight to start June and has dropped 11 of its last 13 road games.

The Cubs could do themselves a favor by gaining an early lead and securing it as the game progresses. Before falling behind 2-0 on Saturday, Chicago allowed a 3-0 lead on Friday to turn into a 4-3 deficit it got out of by scoring six runs in the top of the ninth inning in a 9-5 win.

Coming off their loss on Saturday manager Joe Maddon felt confident with how his team played.

“I was pleased with the game,” Maddon said. “We actually had really good at bats. There was so much that I liked about all of that.”

Maddon admitted he could use a bit more firepower from third baseman Kris Bryant, who went 0-for-3 with one walk and three strikeouts.

“Chasing pitches out of the strike zone. Classic.” Maddon said. “It’s not a mechanical issue. It’s just that he’s expanding his strike zone. I saw that last night in his pinch-hit. I saw it tonight during this game.”

Pirates RHP Jameson Taillon (3-1, 2.90) is in line to make his second start since undergoing testicular cancer surgery. He went five scoreless innings with five strikeouts and two walks on 82 pitches in his return, which Pittsburgh won 7-2 against the Colorado Rockies on Monday.

“I feel like I’ve been through a lot,” Taillon said. “Hopefully, there’s not that much more coming my way and I can just take the ball every fifth day. But whenever there’s a runner on third and no outs, it’s not as big of a deal to me anymore. That was a bit of perspective.”

In 34 career starts, Taillon is 11-7 with a 3.24 ERA. He is 2-1 in three career starts against Chicago with a 2.65 ERA.