Cubs, Pirates look to win rubber match in weekend series (Jul 09, 2017)

BY AP • July 9, 2017

CHICAGO -- The reigning World Series champion Chicago Cubs continue to seek consistency as they approach this week's All-Star break.

The Cubs face the Pittsburgh Pirates in their first-half finale on Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field. The Cubs won the series opener 6-1 before the Pirates took Saturday's game 4-2.

Chicago is 13-13 since June 11, having won consecutive games just once during this period. The Cubs (43-44) are second behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central.

In contrast, the Cubs were 53-35 at the All-Star break last season.

"The defense is gradually ascending to the point I want to see it," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "We have to pitch like we can daily and -- runner on third, less than two outs, we've got to get better at scoring that run. We've got to accumulate those runs, and that's going to put us in a better position the middle and latter part of the game."

Left-hander Jon Lester (5-5, 3.94 ERA) will start for the Cubs looking to rebound from a rough outing. He allowed six runs (five earned) in five innings for the most runs he has given up at Wrigley since Aug. 19, 2015, against Detroit.

"Eight of the nine hits were ground balls through the infield," Lester told after the start. "Maybe bad luck, maybe bad pitches, I don't know. Even the home run, I didn't think was terrible -- I thought it was the right pitch at the right time. I'll take eight hits on the ground -- I'll take my chances on that."

Before that start, the Cubs had won each of Lester's four previous outings. He is 3-2 with a 3.19 ERA in 10 home starts. In 10 career starts against the Pirates, Lester is 4-4 with a 2.86 ERA.

For the Pirates, right-hander Jameson Taillon (5-2, 2.73) will take the mound. He is 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA in five starts since he came off the disabled list June 12 after undergoing testicular cancer surgery on May 8. He struck out a career-high nine in five shutout innings in his last start, a 3-0 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.

"Striking guys out is cool. I've never honestly been a huge super high strikeout guy," Taillon told after his last start. "I honestly didn't even know how many I had either, so nine is a cool number -- it's pretty high. Like I said, I would have rather gone seven with four strikeouts."

Taillon is 2-2 with a 3.68 ERA in four career starts against the Cubs, and he is 3-1 with a 2.31 ERA in six road starts.

As the Pirates are 41-47, fourth in the NL Central, manager Clint Hurdle is in the final guaranteed year of his contract, which includes a club option for next year.

"I've had a blast here," said Hurdle, who is in his seventh season with Pittsburgh. "As long as I'm having fun, I'd like to stay engaged. When it becomes no fun, I need to go home."

The Pirates lead the season series against the Cubs 6-5.

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