Cubs reset to face Braves after losing series with Pirates

CHICAGO — Six wins in their first 12 games likely wasn’t the start the Chicago Cubs had in mind when they began the season.

The Cubs have hovered around .500 out of the gate and are back there heading into this weekend’s series against the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field. But as frantic as their fan base may be for a team expected to be the hands-on favorite to capture their third straight National League Central title, manager Joe Maddon isn’t stressing after Chicago dropped its first series of the year against the Pittsburgh Pirates, including in a 6-1 loss on Thursday.

Chicago will turn to its biggest offseason acquisition, right-hander Yu Darvish, to get back moving in the right direction starting Friday against the Braves.

Darvish will make his third start of the season. He is coming off a much better effort than he experienced in his Cubs debut. Darvish (0-0, 5.23 ERA) struck out nine and walked one while allowing just two hits in six innings on April 7.

Darvish, who signed a six-year, $126 million contract in the offseason, will pitch at Wrigley for the first time since last season’s NLCS. After a shaky start when catcher Willson Contreras told reporters Darvish was too anxious, Darvish was much closer to what the Cubs hope to see over the long haul in his last start.

Through an interpreter, Darvish told reporters he won’t let the pressure of his massive free agent deal impact the way he does his job.

“The big-contract part doesn’t come into the deal,” Darvish said last week, according to the Chicago Tribune. “But it’s important for me to do my stuff and get my results.”

Friday’s start will mark the first time Darvish has faced the Braves in his career.

The Cubs will continue to be without injured first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who is eligible to come off the 10-day disabled list on Monday. Rizzo, who has been dealing with back stiffness, took swings off a tee on Thursday and tested his back during a lengthy workout, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Maddon told reporters that he has spoken to Rizzo about cutting down on the number of swings he takes as part of his routine.

“I believe guys swing too much,” Maddon said, according to the Sun-Times.

Like the Cubs, the Braves (7-5) are coming off their first series loss of the year. Atlanta avoided a sweep at the hands of the Washington Nationals when they used two Kurt Suzuki homers and a clutch two-run, 12th-inning single by Peter Bourjos that lifted the Braves to a 5-3 victory on Wednesday.

The win, albeit the only one of the series, was big for the Braves, Suzuki said. Atlanta wraps up a nine-game road trip with the three games in Chicago this weekend.

“You never want to lose, but you never want to get swept either,” Suzuki told reporters after the victory, according to mlb.com. “It’s a huge difference if you salvage a series against a good team like (the Nationals).”

Anibal Sanchez (0-0, 2.25) will make his third appearance of the season and his second start. He scattered seven hits and allowed two runs in five innings in his only start of the year, which came April 7 against Colorado. Sanchez struck out six and walked two.

In seven career starts against the Cubs, Sanchez is 3-2 with a 3.82 ERA.