I’m just going to say it up front: this series could be trouble for the Pirates. The Pirates are coming off of a really disappointing series against the Brewers capped off by a frustrating game on Sunday that really kept them from making any headway in the NL Central race. They’re without their best pitcher, they’re coming off a stretch in which Starling Marte was benched for quite some time, and now they’re playing the Cubs.
The Cubs’ record is not good (25-35), but their run differential and peripheral performances suggest that they’re playing much better than that record suggests, to the point that all three of Baseball Prospectus’s adjusted standings metrics suggest that the Cubs have played better baseball than the Pirates to this point in 2014.
It’s tempting to say that this four-game set against the Cubs is exactly what the Pirates need; that taking three of four here would reset the Pirates to the path they were on before yesterday’s loss, that getting within two games of .500 wouldn’t be the worst position to be in in mid-June, etc. I’m worried that they’re running into a Cub team that’s been playing well (they’re 6-4 in their last 10, just like the Pirates) and is better than their record indicates at what could be exactly the wrong time.
I hope that’s overblown; the Pirates really have been playing well lately, and I think they’re better than the Cubs. All of that stuff I said about getting three of four here is true; it would be pretty big for the Pirates to pull that off. Charlie Morton is probably the Pirates’ best pitcher now; he goes tonight. Edwin Jackson takes the mound for the Cubs in his 700th start against the Pirates in the last two years. He’s now three starts removed from giving up eight runs to the Padres team that couldn’t touch an injured Gerrit Cole with a meter stick.
Neil Walker is a late scratch tonight, which is worrisome. First pitch is at 7:05.