Cubs @ Pirates: Series Preview (8/16-8/19)


The Cubs split their crucial two-game series with the Brewers to maintain a three game division lead. The Cardinals have stayed hot to move within four games of first-place. Chicago rebounded nicely from a shutout loss in game one of the series to win fairly comfortably on Wednesday. The Cubs now head to Pittsburgh for four with the Pirates.

After going on a tear around the All Star Break, the Pirates have come back down to earth with a 4-6 record in their last 10 games. David Freese, who always hits against the Cubs, is having a good year at the plate, as is Corey Dickerson. Trevor Williams and Jameson Taillon are pacing the rotation so far in 2018. The Bucs are still hanging around the playoff race peripherally, but they have a lot of teams to pass.

The Cubs can't afford to take any series off at this point. Every game has playoff implications with not one, but two teams on their heels. In general, the Northsiders haven't looked their best in the second half. They could really use a hot streak about now, hopefully this series is where it can start.


Thursday: 6:05 pm CT on MLB Network/NBC Sports Chicago/670AM

Friday: 6:05 pm CT on NBC Sports Chicago/670AM

Saturday: 6:05 pm CT on WGN/670AM

Sunday: 12:35 pm CT on ABC-7/670AM



1. Javier Baez (R) 2B
2. Jason Heyward (L) RF
3. David Bote (R) 3B
4. Anthony Rizzo (L) 1B
5. Ian Happ (S) LF
8. Jon Lester (L) P
9. Addison Russell (R) SS
1. Corey Dickerson (L) LF
2. Starling Marte (R) CF
3. Gregory Polanco (L) RF
4. David Freese (R) 3B
5. Elias Diaz (R) C
6. Josh Bell (S) 1B
7. Josh Harrison (R) 2B
9. Ivan Nova (R) P
Bullpen Usage

Lineups and Bullpen Usage via Baseball Press.

Opposing pitchers

Scouting Reports from Brooks Baseball.

Ivan NovaIvan Nova has thrown 16,779 pitches that have been tracked by the PITCHf/x system between 2010 and 2018, including pitches thrown in the MLB Regular Season and the MLB Postseason. In 2018, he has relied primarily on his Sinker (93mph) and Fourseam Fastball (94mph), also mixing in a Curve (81mph) and Change (87mph). He also rarely throws a Slider (82mph).

His sinker has an obvious tail, has slightly above average velo and has some natural sinking action. His fourseam fastball has some natural sinking action, has essentially average velo and has slight armside run. His curve has primarily 12-6 movement, has little depth, is slightly harder than usual and results in somewhat more flyballs compared to other pitchers' curves. His change is much firmer than usual and has slight armside fade. His slider has exceptional depth, results in more flyballs compared to other pitchers' sliders and has primarily 12-6 movement.

Sean's Note: Nova has always pitched well against the Cubs in his career. Once again in 2018, he has held them to just four runs in 12.2 innings pitched. The home run ball has been a big issue for Ivan, with 20 allowed in 124.1 innings pitched.

Trevor WilliamsTrevor Williams has thrown 4,614 pitches that have been tracked by the PITCHf/x system between 2016 and 2018, all of them occuring in the MLB Regular Season. In 2018, he has relied primarily on his Fourseam Fastball (92mph), also mixing in a Sinker (89mph), Slider (82mph) and Change (84mph). He also rarely throws a Curve (75mph).

His fourseam fastball has less armside movement than typical, has some natural sinking action and has essentially average velo. His sinker has below average velo and has some natural sinking action. His slider has short glove-side cut and has some two-plane movement. His change generates fewer whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers' changeups. His curve (take this with a grain of salt because he's only thrown 5 of them in 2018) is basically never swung at and missed compared to other pitchers' curves, results in more flyballs compared to other pitchers' curves, has little depth and has slightly below average velo.

Sean's Note: Despite not getting many grounders Williams has a very low home run rate. He has one of the lowest strike out percentages you will see from a starter, so he pitches to contact. A .256 BABIP indicates he should be allowing more hits than he has. He only allowed a single run in six innings against the Cubs in April.

Joe MusgroveJoe Musgrove has thrown 3,998 pitches that have been tracked by the PITCHf/x system between 2016 and 2018, including pitches thrown in the MLB Regular Season, the MLB Postseason and Spring Training. In 2018, he has relied primarily on his Fourseam Fastball (94mph), also mixing in a Slider (85mph), Cutter (90mph), Sinker (93mph) and Change (86mph).

His fourseam fastball has less armside movement than typical, has some natural sinking action and has slightly above average velo. His slider results in somewhat more groundballs compared to other pitchers' sliders and has some two-plane movement. His cutter generates fewer whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers' cutters, has slightly above average velo, has some natural sink and has strong cutting action. His sinker is a real worm killer that generates an extreme number of groundballs compared to other pitchers' sinkers, has surprisingly little armside run and has some natural sinking action. His change is slightly firmer than usual and has some natural sink to it.

Sean's Note: Musgrave does generate a lot more grounders than Nova or Williams. He is another pitcher with a strike out percentage well below league average. With a very good walk rate he too has the ball put in play against him a bunch. He pitched seven innings of one run baseball against the Cubs in May, he also had the famous revenge slide at second base in the game after Anthony Rizzo's controversial play at the plate.

Jameson TaillonJameson Taillon has thrown 5,940 pitches that have been tracked by the PITCHf/x system between 2012 and 2018, all of them occuring in the MLB Regular Season. In 2018, he has relied primarily on his Fourseam Fastball (96mph), Sinker (96mph) and Curve (83mph), also mixing in a Slider (90mph) and Change (88mph).

His fourseam fastball generates a high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers' fourseamers, has less armside movement than typical and has well above average velo. His sinker is blazing fast, has less armside run than typical and results in somewhat more groundballs compared to other pitchers' sinkers. His curve is much harder than usual and has a sharp downward bite. His slider is thrown extremely hard, has less than expected depth and results in somewhat more groundballs compared to other pitchers' sliders. His change is thrown extremely hard, generates fewer whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers' changeups and has slight cut action.

Sean's Note: Taillon has had a good year for the Pirates in 2018. He has very good control with a walk rate below 6%. Home runs are not a big issue and he generates a fair amount of ground balls. Lefties hit him for a higher average, but not better power than righties. Taillon allowed three runs in seven innings against the Cubs in a win at the end of July.

Filed under: Lineup, Series Preview


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  • Another big start for Lester to see if he can right the ship. There were reports that following his shelling vs. the Nats' that he and the coaching staff had found "something" that was wrong and knew how to fix it, although they wouldn't reveal what "something" was. In an interview with the Sun-Times, however, he admitted to falling into bad habits by limiting his pitch usage. He said during his recent struggles he has nearly abandoned his curve and change-up and relied too heavily on his four-seamer and cutter. He says he needs to go back to his full repertoire and pitch to contact, however...

    Looking at his pitch usage charts, he has been. The percentage of times he has thrown his various pitches has fluctuated pretty wildly game-to-game in the past month. The velocity of all his offerings, across the board, has remained consistent.The percentage of four-seamers and cutters actually decreased vs. the Nats, yet he still allowed 9 out of 10 hits off his fastball. All of this tells me that... hell, I don't know what this tells me.

    Honesty, what I think is he has been getting hit hard and has become stubborn, going to the comfort of a fastball or cutter in inopportune situations, and the hitters have caught on. Hopefully the simple realization of this pattern on his part can produce better results. The acknowledgement of needing to pitch to contact may be the most important point in this equation, and I expect to see a mound visit or three to remind him of this if he starts to struggle.

    As for the rest of the game, less is more: we score more and they score less.

    Go Cubs!

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    In reply to BarleyPop:

    What total b.s. Lester use to throw 94-96 and now he's barely hitting 90. How do you fix "old and washed up?" The pirates will start bombing him the 2nd time thru the lineup. Cardinals within 3 after tonights loss.

  • In reply to Greg Simmons:

    I have to admit you are correct. Lester did used to throw 94-96... 10 years ago.

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    In reply to BarleyPop:

    Right. Whats that saying? Even a broken idiot is right twice a day, or something like that.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    BP, if you're getting notifications, let us know what's up! We're concerned...

  • In reply to Greg Simmons:

    Another clown post, bro.

  • In reply to Greg Simmons:

    Let's not scare Greg away everyone I thought he brought nothing to this site but I have now won 4 straight games sports betting going against Gregs predictions and many others have had some luck too. He must have some time of voodoo magic workng against his predictions because Lester sure couldn't figure things out until Greg called predicted that he's washed up. But I guess there's also the possibility he just doesn't know what he's talking about lol

  • In reply to Greg Simmons:

    Not gonna catch any teams in front of them with that D

  • Did they jump all over Tallion earlier this year and pound out a pile of runs? Or did they get shutout? It was probably one or the other.

    I feel a little winning streak coming on. The "hitters only" meeting after the shutout has them playing together. And I like Javy at the top and Rizzo back in production slot.

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    Let's try something different and get a lead in the first or second inning and NOT give up a run in the 1st or 2nd.
    Go Cubs!!

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    This is a big series in the sense for the NL Central. Cubs could really end the Pirates hope at the division and really hurt their Wild card dreams. Also the Pirates with a sweep of the Cubs could really help whoever prevails in St Louis over the weekend.

    A cards sweep of the Brewers and the Cubs just losing the series to the Bucs would make a certain fake Cubs fan splatz in his shorts.

    Too bad for all, the Cubs will win this series and in the next couple weeks will get healthy, and put a strangle hold on this division and #1 seed in the NL and steamroll towards the playoffs.

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    Javy hitting leadoff is going to really hurt his chances for leading the league in RBIs.

    I know Joe believes the lead off spot is his "microwave" for heating up struggling players. I believe its a good idea for some players who are normally patient but are not being selective leading to a slump.

    This is not relevant for someone w Javy's game.

    Hopefully I am wrong and Javy just takes off and goes 2-4 today w a walk.

  • Darvish will throw a minors rehab start Sunday

  • In reply to bolla:

    Amazing how quickly he has progressed since Arod comments. Hope he is healthy.

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    In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    Coincidence? I think not. Well I hope not.

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    I can see both sides of this idea. It is an undisputable fact that he has progressed rapidly since the comments, and that everyone reporting on his throwing sessions has noted the extra fire in his eyes following the controversy. This could be completely due to the simple fact of getting healthy and the added confidence and competitiveness. But it would be sad if those comments were what was needed for motivation. That is a harsh opinion, and I agree with you and hope that isn't the case, but given the bizarre nature of this whole scenario I think the questions are valid.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    Also sad if he pushed the timetable for return and aggravates the injury due to Aroid's irresponsible comments.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    Respectively I think some of you are reading too much twitter and I'm referring to all of you on this thread that think there's no legit injury and that he's only returning only because of Arods comments. Frankly the team has been conservative with his rehab so I think it's as simple as he's healthy now and if he was ever gonna come back he had to come back now if he was gonna have a shot to pitch playoff games. Maybe some of you didn't expect him to return and now this is how you react to the the news that he's returning but the team has long projected that Darvish was scheduled to return by late August/early September that's been the plan from Darvish's camp and the cubs for over a month now. If we were ever going to get him ready to pitch games in October then really early September is about the absolute latest that he can return and get into decent form. I think the idea he came back because of Arod is nonsense maybe he lit a fire under Darvish to a degree but I simply think that Arods comments happened to occur when Darvish was just about healthy and only needed to work his throwing arm back into shape as he has been doing recently. But it's been the plan for some time to have Darvish return around early September that way they're not only giving him enough starts to round into playoff form while still taking the precautionary measures to ensure that he's healthy and that this injury won't get reaggravated or become a recurring issue. I'm not saying your the one saying that he's returning because of Arod's comments Barley too btw this is moreso a mass reply to this topic of discussion in general. I'm also not saying Arod's comments don't motivate Darvish but I think if anyone is trying to imply that Darvish wouldn't have returned had Arod not made those comments is delusional the plan has been for him to return for a while.

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    How about a 1-2-3 inning Mr. Lester.

    Pirates starting you w a lefty at leadoff

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    Leadoff single. No problem w a nice DP turned behind him

    11 pitch inning. I like it

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    Come on Willy. Don't pose n do the bat flip on a barely warning track fly ball.

    You get all of it, I have no problem w you posing or doing a bat flip or whatever.

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    B2B2B2B K's for Lester and its "sort of" 6 up 6 down to start the game.

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    Great AB by Javy going the other way w 2 strikes. If he can master that swing/stroke on the outside pitches w 2 strikes, he will only have 1 weakness and not every pitcher has that pitch in their arsenal.

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    6 k's thru 3. Nasty

    I like this version of Lester. If he can regain his dominant form, we have an ace and then all the other pieces can fall into order.

  • I can't prove it, but I called Happ' s homerun.

  • Camera caught Baez going back to the dugout saying “shut the f$$$ up”. Wonder who that was directed to

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:


  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    Hahahaha. Agreed.

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    Happ loves coming to Pittsburgh like the Schwarbenator likes coming to Ohio. I don't believe this game will end 1-0, so lets get some cushion in the 6th boys !

    Due to the early start, I guess a lot of you guys are missing the great start by Lester, buts he been Ace light so far. 79 pitches 8 k's and no runs so far.

    Boy Jon got some breaks w the bad umpiring as he walked Nova on 4 pitches.

    Oh and Matt Carpenters D just cost the dirty birds 2 runs

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    If, if Yu’s game goes well and he comes back healthy and with all his pitches if could be a huge boost to our club. Maybe like getting Verlander for the Astros last year and all his 2018 season up to now would be forgotten. He would be the equivalent of Schwarber in 2016. Imagine that story!
    Btw, Wash is beating StL 4-1 in the 4th.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Let’s hope their starter can go all 9... Almost no lead is safe w/their pen. Key word “almost”... ;o)

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    I totally forgot the Phillies picking up the Buffalo ( Wilson Ramos) from the Rays. That's going to be a sneaky huge pickup if he can stay healthy. If the Nats would have woke up, the NL east race down the stretch would have been fantastic.

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    Here we go Jon Lester. This is going to be a big part of the game after struggling w command for the 1st time tonight in the 5th. Pirates top of the order coming up for the 3rd time.

    My money is on big game Jon to put up another ZERO

  • Another phenomenal tag by baez, VERY encouraging start by lester tonight.

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    When I grew up the Cardinals were known for their pitching and defense and I just switched over to the MLB network and saw them make 2 errors in a row, they have 3 in the game and it’s now 5-1. We are so lucky to be seeing our defense every day.

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    In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    With all the errors n misplays, the Nats should really have around 8-9 runs.

    Roark needs to get 6 more outs for the Nats t have a chance to win, because you know the Cards Voodoo is going to let them claw back into this game.

  • Come on Javy, quit swinging at every stinking pitch. Strike three was chin high.

  • In reply to TheSarge#36:

    I'm glad you said it ! Great game tonight from Jon Lester ! I hope the Nats can hold on and beat the Cards ! We picked up the Pittsburg feed here in L.A. Their announcers were not very kind to Javy saying the book on him is to not throw strikes, and he will get himself out !

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    Insurance por favor !

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    I was about to say the same thing. I just had a big ol' slab of beef tenderloin off the grill for dinner, and a couple insurance runs would keep my stomach from getting queazy.

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    In reply to BarleyPop:

    Sounds like someones tummy is happy.

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    Hvorfor ikke? (Why not in Norwegian—I lived there for a few years.)

  • Was that strike 3 to Happ as egregious as it looked? Time for robo ump.......

  • In reply to Treebeard:

    Was a ball but much closer than most of Schwarbers calls and the onevZobrist called for electronic ump before he got tossed

  • In reply to stix:

    I have noticed Schwarber really gets some bad strike calls pretty consistently............

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    Len n JD just mushed the shot of the 1st cubs game w no walks.

    That is something, no games all season w out a walk.

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    STROPY time......

    I know it sucks that Morrow is out, but getting another reliever closing experience heading to the post season is a good thing. Morrow hasn't been a closer very long himself, so who knows whats going to happen in the playoffs where games are super tight and extra innings are soooooo important.

  • Strop isn’t controlling his slider well tonight

  • Pedro Stropy is physically intimidating on the mound. He's intense and slings nasty heat and that cutter-thing he throws is so nasty. It's one of those pitches you think "why did he swing at that?" but it's because it's just so nasty, it comes out of his hand and dives away. I'm good with Pedro as closer.

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    Thats called "effectively wild" Mr. Burger

    Cubs win homey slices !

  • I'm glad Javy doesn't have to face Strop. That would be ugly if you're a Javy fan.

    W! Go Nats!

  • In reply to BarleyPop:


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    Strop vs Riz—what wee the glares about?
    A really good win tonight.

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    In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    What were (not wee) the glares about?

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    I don’t know, but it had us cracking up here at home. I replayed it & we laughed even harder.

    Must be Rizzo being Rizzo because Strop seems serious & tightly wound out there. Maybe he was trying to loosen him up...

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    Cubs win, Wash wins!

  • There's a lot to feel good about tonight. Cubs gain a half-game on idle MKE and a full game on STL. For once, low scoring didn't come back to bite them as Jon Lester pitched a gem for the first time in a while. Cole Hamels takes the mound tomorrow while the Birds and Brewers whoop up on each other.

  • What glares? Say more. But knowing those two there’s a high humor quotient going on.

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    In reply to captjack:

    If you didn't see it, in the 9th there was a meeting on the mound with all the infielders and the pitching coach and right before it broke up Rizzo was glaring at Stropy and Stropy was glaring right back. Neither backed down and Riz just left the mound.
    There has to be a story there. Even when Rizzo stepped on first to end the game he never really acknowledged Strop.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    It was Funny to me & my girls. Maybe it was Rizzo’s way of telling him not to blow the game...

  • In reply to captjack:

    During the mound visit, Hickey was talking to Strop & Rizzo stood there staring at Stropy... Even after Hickey & Contreras left. Strop did a sort of double take at Rizzo & they seemed to have a staring contest. Finally, while still staring, Rizzo turned to go to 1st base as if reading Strop’s mind. It was just funny.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    Certainly, it was all in jest and really great to see a little fun in a stressful moment. I like where the team is.

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    In reply to JohnCC:

    It was in jest.

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