Pirates turn page from last year, vie for sweep of Cubs
CHICAGO — The Pittsburgh Pirates will try to complete a three-game sweep against the Chicago Cubs on Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field.
That is quite a turnaround for a Pittsburgh club that won only one of nine games at Wrigley last season.
“That’s why last year is last year,” Pirates right fielder Andrew McCutchen said. “We don’t think too much about it. We don’t think too deep into last year. We’re just focused on right now. We’re in a good spot.”
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Pittsburgh (5-6) is seeking its third win in a row after losing four straight games. The Pirates are swinging hot bats with 12 runs scored in their past two contests.
Chicago (6-5) has lost three of the past four games, with each of those losses coming by two runs or less. The Cubs will try to bounce back from a late-inning meltdown that led to an 8-7 loss Saturday.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he was not concerned about the narrow losses to start the season. Eight of the team’s first 11 games have been decided by two runs or less, and Chicago is 3-5 in those contests.
“We’ve played pretty well,” Maddon said. “The games haven’t been bad, and that’s the laser-thin line between winning and losing. It’s just been that close.
“I think as we settle down and get our emotions back in check, we’ll be just fine.”
Cubs left-hander Jon Lester (0-0, 1.64 ERA) will make his third start of the season and his first since Monday night’s banner-raising ceremony at Wrigley Field. The 33-year-old has allowed only one earned run in each of his first two starts. In 11 innings of work, he has walked three and struck out 14.
Lester is 4-3 with a 2.68 ERA in eight career starts against the Pirates, all but one of which have come since he joined the Cubs. Last season, Lester was 2-1 with a 3.80 ERA in four starts against Pittsburgh.
Pirates hitters David Freese (5-for-14) and Jordy Mercer (4-for-13) have enjoyed success against Lester. However, McCutchen has hit only .174 (4-for-23) against the southpaw.
The Pirates will counter with right-hander Jameson Taillon (0-0, 1.38 ERA), a talented 25-year-old who will be making his third start of the season and 21st career. Taillon pitched seven scoreless innings against the Boston Red Sox in his season debut, and he limited the Cincinnati Reds to two runs in six innings his next time out. He was the Pirates’ first-round selection (No. 2 overall) in 2010, sandwiched between No. 1 pick Bryce Harper to Washington and No. 3 pick Manny Machado to Baltimore.
Last season, Taillon faced the Cubs once at home and once on the road. He went 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA, surrendering four runs in four innings June 19 at Wrigley.
Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo tormented Taillon in 2016. Rizzo went 3-for-5 with two home runs and three RBIs for a slugging percentage of 1.800. Meanwhile, teammates Addison Russell and Ben Zobrist each were hitless in four at-bats against Taillon.
After Sunday’s series finale, the Pirates will head south to St. Louis to wrap up a seven-game road trip. The Cubs will stay home for a three-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers.