Slipping Cubs face floundering Pirates

Field Level Media

August 16, 2019 at 5:49 am.

Going into their weekend series, the visiting Chicago Cubs remain in the thick of the race for the National League Central title, while the Pittsburgh Pirates are fighting just to stay relevant.

Chicago has hit a bit of a slide, losing five of six games, including a three-game sweep by Philadelphia that culminated Thursday with a blown five-run lead and Bryce Harper’s walk-off grand slam as the Phillies won 7-5.

The Cubs are dealing with what manager Joe Maddon described as flu symptoms among “six or seven” players lately. That includes Thursday when shortstop Javy Baez was a late scratch because of illness.

Cubs reliever Brandon Kintzler (right pectoral inflammation) is expected to be activated from the injured list in time for Friday’s game against the Pirates.

Pittsburgh, firmly in last in the NL Central, took a little pressure off by winning back-to-back games earlier this week at Anaheim, ending an eight-game losing streak. But the Pirates are 6-25 since the All-Star break.

In addition, the Pirates are coming off the news that No. 1 starter Jameson Taillon will miss not only the rest of this season but also all of 2020 after it was determined he needed — and had — Tommy John surgery in addition to a less serious elbow procedure.

So Pittsburgh is feeling like it has to be perfect just to get by.

“We, as a team, we can’t make mistakes,” said Chris Archer, the starter who took the loss Wednesday in a 7-4 defeat at Anaheim that closed out a Pirates’ road trip. “We (starters) usually throw around 100 pitches, and one or two of those is the difference in the game. We can’t make mistakes on the pitching end, the defensive end, or on offense, base-running. We can’t make any mistakes at all.”

Taking two of three from the Angels was the Pirates’ first series win since the All-Star break.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said.

In the weekend series opener, Chicago right-hander Kyle Hendricks (8-9, 3.48 ERA) is scheduled to face Pittsburgh right-hander Joe Musgrove (8-11, 4.71).

Hendricks will be looking to bounce back from his last start, a 10-1 Cubs loss Saturday at Cincinnati when he gave up seven runs and a career-high 12 hits, including tying a career-high with three homers, in 2 2/3 innings.

That pushed Hendricks’ road ERA to 5.16 in 12 starts.

“It’s just what’s happening,” Hendricks said. “Obviously, we’re comfortable at home. I think that goes for the group, and myself included. I’m very comfortable at home. I’ve just had a couple blowups on the road that have inflated that, I think. I’ve had some good games on the road, too. I just need to be more consistent overall.”

He is 4-6 with a 3.25 ERA in 14 career starts against the Pirates, including 2-2 with a 3.34 ERA in seven starts at PNC Park.

Musgrove took something of a tough-luck loss Saturday, giving up three runs in 5 1/3 innings in a 3-1 loss at St. Louis.

He has lost three of his past four decisions, and he has given up 10 homers over his past seven starts, seven homers over his past four starts.

Against the Cubs, Musgrove is 2-2 with a 1.23 ERA in five career starts. Two of those came this year, giving up two unearned runs in 6 1/3 innings in a 2-0 loss April 11, and pitching three scoreless innings July 2 before a long rain delay ended his outing.