RECORDS: Pirates 65-82 Cubs 78-68
GAMETIMES: Friday 3:05, Saturday/Sunday 1:20
TV: Friday/Saturday NBCSN, WGN Sunday
MOURNING THE DEAD: Bucs Dugout
SERIES PREVIEW POSTS
The optimistic out there, and let’s face it, they still make up a large portion of Cubdom because they had to for so long, will tell you that returning home for 10 games is where the Cubs finally charge. They’ve been great at home all season, they’re playing two doormats before welcoming The Red Menace for a true NL Central Main Event, and if it’s ever going to turn around, it’s now.
Those of you like me can’t help but feel the winds of 2004. The Cubs returned home for four with the lowly Reds, still the wild card in their grip even after the disaster at Shea. They promptly lost three of four in the most pathetic way possible, and the season was over and basically the whole thing was broken for two more years. You feel a similar pivot point here, where if the Cubs don’t use these 10 games to springboard into at least a stranglehold on the wildcard spot, and really launching themselves up to and past the Cardinals, the effects could be felt for years.
So it starts with a team already frayed and dead, the Pittsburgh Pirates. They’re fighting with each other, they’re fighting with their coaches, they hate everything, they throw at people, but mostly they just want to go home. This season has been utterly miserable for them since like May 1st, the organization seems directionless, and any hope for the future is curbed by the knowledge that Bob Nutting won’t let that future happen.
Somehow, the Bucs have managed a 6-5 record in September, though it’s buffeted by getting four games with the similarly dead Giants. They lost two of three to the Cardinals last weekend, and that’s the absolute minimum requirement here. They’ll start with Steven Brault, who handcuffed the Cubs a couple weeks ago for seven innings, so get your bomb shelters ready for the hot takes that will be spilling should he do it again. James Marvel will only be making his second career start, and we saw how well that went with Bolanos in San Diego earlier this week. The Cubs have cuffed around Trevor Williams a couple times this year, so there’s your hope.
But mostly what the Cubs have to watch out for is their rotation disintegrating beneath Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks. Jose Quintana fell apart when Ben Zobrist couldn’t locate Nico Hoerner for the second straight night. Jon Lester has been more bad than good for months now and melted down against the Brewers on Sunday. The Cubs just can’t have any of that this weekend. They’ll have to duck around Adam Frazier and Kevin Newman, who are the hottest Pirates at the moment. Josh Bell clearly just wants the season to end, as he’s been average for a while now. But you don’t have to go far to picture him with a big homer somewhere over these three days.
The Cubs need their starters because we’ve seen the pen is still a mess without Craig Kimbrel, and it wasn’t all that orderly when he was around anyway. Once again, Steve Cishek has been turned into paste, and Wick has been adventure-prone of late (and is probably down for today after yesterday’s theatrics). Get runs off this team that doesn’t want to be there, and only ask your pen for six-to-eight outs or something. It’s not hard, but the Cubs have made it look exceedingly so for four months now.
These 10 games are about way more than the 10 games. The entire direction of the organization is in the balance. Maybe the Cubs will finally play like it, or we’ll know something has been truly rotten in Denmark for a while.