Slumping Cubs need to get on track vs. Pirates
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs have had their eye on the National League playoffs from Opening Day. But in the final week of the regular season, just how the two-time defending Central Division champions will factor into the postseason picture remains unclear.
With five games remaining starting with Wednesday's divisional test against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs are attempting to hold off the Milwaukee Brewers for the division title, but also can't lose sight of the St. Louis Cardinals, who are hoping to join the postseason push as the third representative from the Central Division.
The Cubs still remain the front-runner despite carrying a two-game losing streak into Wednesday following a 6-0 loss to the Pirates on Tuesday. The loss, coupled with the Brewers' 12-4 victory over the Cardinals, leaves the Cubs' lead at just a half a game as Chicago once again was unable to inch closer to a division title.
Despite that and a second straight night when the offense sputtered, the Cubs aren't concerning with themselves with shrinking margins as they understand the level of competition they're facing down the stretch.
"I just want to point out we have the best record in the National League and we haven't clinched yet," Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward told reporters Tuesday, according to the team's official website. "That shows you how good our division is. That shows you how good this league is. I feel like it's time to pay respect to how good these other teams have been playing baseball."
As much as the Cubs hope to secure another division title, they realize that they could still find their ways into the playoffs as a wild card should they fail to put away the Brewers. That would set up a much different scenario, but one Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team will deal with if necessary.
"I hope we avoid that," Maddon told reporters on Tuesday, according to MLB.com
Jose Quintana (13-11, 4.11 ERA) will start for the Cubs. Quintana is hoping to bounce back from consecutive losses, including in his last outing against the Chicago White Sox. Quintana allowed five runs and nine hits over five innings, which snapped a string of six straight starts in which he didn't allow more than two earned runs. Quintana is 1-1 with a 2.74 ERA in four career starts against Pittsburgh.
Ivan Nova gets the start for Pittsburgh. Nova (9-9, 4.01) is 2-0 with a no-decision in three starts this month and has surrendered just two earned runs in those three starts and has struck out 15. Nova looks to continue his run of good fortune he has enjoyed during his career against the Cubs as he is 4-2 with a 3.27 ERA in seven career starts.
Nova was scheduled to make another start following Wednesday's outing but the Pirates' scheduled makeup game against the Miami Marlins on Monday was canceled. That means that Nova will make his final start against the Cubs, which is an outing he looks forward to despite the fact the Pirates have nothing to play for.
"I just want to go pitch," Nova told reporters on Monday, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "As long as you feel good, you want to keep pitching. A lot of guys are ready to go home now that we have been eliminated from the playoffs. I'm excited to have another chance to pitch (on Wednesday)."