Pirates, Cubs close out season series

BY foxsports • September 29, 2016

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Pirates play their final home game of the season Thursday, and it's a proposition welcomed by them only because they won't play the Chicago Cubs again until 2017.

For the first time since 2012, there will be no autumnal postseason baseball in Pittsburgh that Pirates fans like to refer to as Buctober, and the Cubs are greatly the reason why.

The Pirates will wrap up an unsatisfying 2016 season at PNC Park, where they are 38-42, including a 5-17 record in their last 22 home games. It's been quite the turnaround, given that the Pirates (192 home wins since 2013) trail only the Los Angeles Dodgers (200) and St. Louis Cardinals (194) in home wins since the 2013 season.

This season, it's the Cubs who've made themselves at home, winning a major league-leading 57 games at home -- the kind of mastery they hope to carry into the postseason next week, with home field advantage through the NL playoffs. They've also gone 14-4 against the Pirates, despite losing 8-4 Wednesday as Pirates first baseman John Jaso became the first player to hit for the cycle in PNC Park.

First, though, they've got to wrap up their best regular season since 1910 with the game in Pittsburgh and three more in Cincinnati this weekend. And that means continuing to give at-bats to their key regulars -- six of their eight position player starters Wednesday night were starters -- and to give a glance or two to some prospects.

That includes rookie left-hander Rob Zastryzny, their second round pick in 2013 who's off to a promising start with a 1-0 record and 1.46 ERA in seven relief appearances. He'll make his major league starting debut Thursday night, opposing veteran Pirates right-hander Ivan Nova (12-8, 4.37 ERA).

Zastryzny has an interesting background. He was born in Edmonton before moving at age 1 to Dallas where, true to his Canadian roots, he excelled in youth hockey before switching to baseball.

"I had it (hockey) in my blood," he told the Chicago Tribune. But, after playing in a tournament against Canadian players in which he realized he might not be as good as he initially thought, his parents told him, "You know what? Here's a baseball, try that."

Cubs manager Joe Maddon likes what he sees of Zastryzny so far, even thought the left-hander has appeared in only three games this month.

"His stuff is good and he's a strike thrower, and I love strike throwers," Maddon said.

This will be Nova's 11th start since the Pirates acquired him from the New York Yankees on Aug. 1, and so far he's been exactly what Jonathon Niese, Francisco Liriano and Juan Nicasio weren't to Pittsburgh -- an effective starter. He is 5-2 with a 3.49 ERA, 47 strikeouts and only three walks with the Pirates, one reason why they want to bring him back next season if they can afford him.

"He's been a really good 'get' for us, and that's an understatement," manager Clint Hurdle told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

However, Nova has been less effective lately, giving up 18 hits and nine earned runs in seven innings over his last two starts after going 5-0 in his first eight Pirates starts. He lasted four innings during a 6-1 loss to the Washington Nationals, giving up eight hits and five earned runs.

The past three seasons, the Pirates were gearing up for the postseason -- they lost to the Cardinals in a five-game NLDS in 2013, and to the Giants (2014) and the Cubs and Arrieta (2015) in the NL wild card game at PNC Park the previous two seasons.

Now, they're gearing up for the offseason.

"I'll finally get to sleep in my own bed for the first time in eight months," Pirates right-hander Jameson Taillon said.



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