The Cubs will open up July by heading to Pittsburgh for a four game set against the Pirates. Division games are crucial in baseball, and this is especially true for this years NL Central teams. The last place Reds are only 5.5 games out of first for the division. Most other divisions do not even have a second place team that close. So clearly this series is important for both teams. The Cubs are looking to gain an edge in the division, while the Pirates try to climb back near the top of the NL Central.
Game 1: Monday, July 1 | 7:05 PM EST
Probable Starters: Adbert Alzolay (1-0, 2.08 ERA) vs. Trevor Williams (2-2, 4.25 ERA)
Adbert Alzoly has two big league appearances so far. He’s pitched eight and 2/3 innings, posting a 2.08 ERA and nine strikeouts. Though it’s just a small sample size, these numbers represent how talented Alzolay is. The rookie pitcher is also going to the Futures Game on July 7. Alzolay will be making his first road appearance in the bigs Monday evening.
Trevor Williams is looking to get things going. He came back from injury on June 19, and has had two starts since. Williams has put up a lousy 8.49 ERA over those two outings without even walking a batter. The 27-year-old will have to figure things out if he wants to have a good outing against a tough Cubs lineup.
Prediction: Alzolay hasn’t gone five innings in either of his outings, but his solid innings can transition nicely for a stacked Cubs bullpen. It’s hard to tell how these division games will go, but the Cubs can take game one 6-2.
Game 2: Tuesday, July 2 | 7:05 PM EST
Probable Starters: Kyle Hendricks (7-5, 3.36 ERA) vs. Joe Musgrove (6-7, 4.27 ERA)
Kyle Hendricks is making his first start since injuring his shoulder on June 14. The sinkerballer has been very effective this season, posting a 3.36 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP at this point in the season. He has good career numbers against Pittsburgh, as current Pirates slash just .233/.284/.353 against Hendricks.
Joe Musgrove started his season by throwing 6 and 1/3 shutout innings against the Cubs. He is having an average season with his 4.27 ERA since then. His last two starts have helped lower that number, as he went 13 innings with just one earned run allowed. The 26-year-old is looking to keep that streak going Tuesday against Chicago.
Prediction: Both of these pitchers have the ability to give their clubs quality innings. Both teams also have players like Javier Baez and Josh Bell that can put a run on the board against any pitcher. With that said, the Cubs could take game two 5-4.
Game 3: Wednesday, July 3 | 7:05 PM EST
Probable Starters: Yu Darvish (2-4, 4.98 ERA) vs. Chris Archer (3-6, 5.50 ERA)
Yu Darvish is sitting right around a 5.00 ERA. The 32-year-old isn’t having a great year, but he can still pitch well against any team on the right day. Current Pirates slash .300/.340/.560 against Darvish through 50 at-bats. Darvish doesn’t have much going for him in this one, but he can still give his team a chance to win game three.
The Pirates are still waiting for Chris Archer to pitch up to his contract. Archer never got things going since being traded from Tampa Bay last season. He has a 5.50 ERA so far this season, and there isn’t much reason to think he can return to prime form anytime soon. Active Cubs hit .268/.349/.429 against Archer, and that line can jump upwards if Archer doesn’t get out of his slump.
Prediction: Both managers know that they’re sending out struggling pitchers. They’ll likely not be afraid to make a call to the bullpen as soon as their starter struggles. The Pirates could take this game 11-7 with players like Kevin Newman, who is currently on a 19 game hit streak in the lineup.
Game 4: Thursday, July 4 | 4:05 PM
Probable Starters: Jose Quintana (5-7, 4.21 ERA) vs. Jordan Lyles (5-4, 3.71 ERA)
Jose Quintana began his 2019 campaign with seven scoreless innings against the Pirates. The southpaw has been consistent this season. He’s only had one or two outings that he’d like to have back. Joe Maddon has been taking Quintana out fairly early this season, which is just the way baseball is heading. Quintana has pitched well against active Pirates hitters, as the club posts just a .226 batting average against him.
Jordan Lyles has been a pitcher to count on for five or six decent innings. He’s continued that trend this season, posting a 3.71 ERA thus far. Lyles pitched six innings against the Cubs back in April, allowing just one earned run.
Prediction: July 4 offers plenty of fireworks, and this game can too. The Pirates can tie the series with a 9-5 win in the final game of the set.
- Cole Hamels has an oblique strain that has him sidelined for about four weeks.
- Carl Edwards should be back in about a week after injuring his back.
- Xavier Cedeno could be returning during this series with a wrist injury.
- Francisco Cervelli is out for a few weeks with a concussion.
- Gregory Polanco has a shoulder injury; he can return in a few weeks.
- Jameson Taillon is still out with an elbow injury.
- Keone Kela’s shoulder is keeping him away from pitching until about July 12.
Feature Image Courtesy of Getty Images.