Preview: Pirates at Cubs

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[June 17, 2016]  If the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to climb back into the National League Central race, this weekend would be a good time to start. The fading Pirates have lost seven of their last eight heading into Friday afternoon’s series opener at Wrigley Field against the division-leading Chicago Cubs, who are 24 games above .500 and boast the league’s best home record at 22-8.

The third-place Pirates have fallen 12 games behind a Chicago team that added to its already impressive depth on Thursday with the promotion of top catching prospect Willson Contreras from Triple-A Iowa. The 24-year-old was hitting .350 with nine home runs and 43 RBI through 54 contests for Iowa and figures to share time behind the plate with veterans Miguel Montero and David Ross. The Cubs are 5-1 this season against the Pirates, who hope to have Starling Marte back in the lineup Friday after the left fielder missed Thursday’s 6-4 loss to the Mets with an injured left cheekbone. Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen was moved to the third spot in the order on Thursday after hitting second for most of the season and snapped a 0-for-17 slump with three hits.

TV: 2:20 p.m. ET, ROOT (Pittsburgh), ABC7 (Chicago)

PITCHING MATCHUP: Pirates LH Francisco Liriano (4-6, 4.92 ERA) vs. Cubs RH Jake Arrieta (10-1, 1.86)

Liriano dropped his third straight decision last Saturday after allowing four runs (one earned) and striking out eight over six frames against St. Louis. The 32-year-old has struggled on the road this season, going 1-3 with a 7.09 ERA in six starts. Kris Bryant is 4-for-9 with a home run against Liriano, who is 5-3 with a 3.13 ERA in 12 career starts against the Cubs but was pulled in the fifth inning of a loss at Wrigley Field on May 13.

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Arrieta bounced back from his first loss by holding Atlanta to two runs on four hits and two walks in an 8-2 victory last Saturday. The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner is 8-1 with a 1.58 ERA in 11 career starts against the Pirates, including 5-1 with a 0.88 ERA in his last seven regular-season outings. Gregory Polanco is 4-for-22 with seven strikeouts against Arrieta, who also threw a complete game shutout against Pittsburgh in last season’s NL wild-card game.


1. The Cubs have outscored the Pirates 38-13 in their six meetings this season.

2. The Pirates are the only team in the majors that has not been shut out this season.

3. Reserve C Tim Federowicz is expected to be designated for assignment by the Cubs on Friday to make room for Contreras.

PREDICTION: Cubs 9, Pirates 3

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