Cubs go for sweep of Pirates

CHICAGO — When the season started, Kyle Hendricks expected to be part of the reason the Chicago Cubs could count themselves among the favorites in the National League.

But like the Cubs, the right-hander has battled inconsistency thus far but understands the need to establish a rhythm. The Cubs, who will attempt to close out a three-game sweep Sunday against the Pittsburgh Pirates, have done just that by winning 11 of their past 13 games to move to a season-best 13 games over .500.

Hendricks, who takes the mound in the series finale at Wrigley Field, is hoping to follow suit.

“I’ve just got to get back to work this week and just really dial everything in,” Hendricks said after his last start against the Philadelphia Phillies when he allowed five runs over five innings.

Hendricks (4-5, 3.59 ERA) has been looked upon to be one of the Cubs aces, along with Jon Lester, who shut out the Pirates in Saturday’s 2-0 victory. But after winning two of his first three starts to begin the season, Hendricks has lost three of his last four outings heading into Sunday.

Hendricks is 4-4 in 12 career starts against the Pirates with a 3.24 ERA.

The Cubs continued to keep surging in the right direction Sunday as manager Joe Maddon elected to keep Kris Bryant at the top of the batting order. In his first career leadoff hitting appearance Friday, Bryant went 3-for-4 and scored a run. Bryant accounted for a Cubs run again Saturday, but Maddon admitted before Saturday’s game that he’s unsure of how long he will keep Bryant in the top spot.

“I don’t know; I honestly don’t know,” Maddon said via the Cubs’ official website. “He does such a great job of getting on base. I like where Jason Heyward is right now (batting second). You can hit Ben Zobrist anywhere. I honestly don’t know (about Bryant). I’m playing it by feel on this one and will try to determine the right thing to do on a daily basis.”

The Pirates will attempt to avoid being swept Sunday, but Saturday’s loss secured their seventh straight series loss, dating back to the middle of May. Pittsburgh dropped to two games under .500 for the season while collecting only one hit — an Austin Meadows triple — off Lester and relievers Justin Wilson and Steve Cishek.

The latest loss compounded Pittsburgh’s recent offensive struggles, which led manager Clint Hurdle to drop first baseman Josh Bell from the cleanup spot to hitting sixth. Bell is batting .233 with four home runs and 34 RBIs after going 0-for-2 with a walk Saturday.

According to the Pirates’ team website, Hurdle discussed the move with Bell on Friday.

“He’s still going to hit. He’s going to hit two batters later,” Hurdle said. “He may hit with more men on base in this position. He may hit with less men on base in this position. I don’t know, but it’s something different. We’ve rearranged the living room furniture. … He’s got to find a different way across the room. That’s all.”

Joe Musgrove will start for the Pirates on Sunday. Musgrove (2-1, 1.89), who is making his fourth start of the season after missing nearly two months with strained right shoulder, is 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA in two career starts against the Cubs.