The Cubs have gotten off to a worse start than even the most pessimistic prognosticators would’ve foretold. After a 2-7 road trip that Theo Epstein called close to a “worst case scenario,” the Cubs return home to Wrigley Field for the first time this season to take on the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Cubs won the 2018 season series against the Pirates, but just barely, taking 10 of the 19 contests between the clubs. While the Cubs have returned largely the same team as last year, the Pirates have some new faces hoping to return to the playoffs for the first time since being so satisfyingly eliminated by Jake Arrieta and the Cubs in the 2015 Wild Card game in Pittsburgh.
Hopefully we’ll see more of that this week.
The starting rotation was a strength of the Pirates last year and remains so this year. Right-handed starters Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams make up what might be the best 1-2 punch in the NL Central. The Cubs will face Taillon in Monday’s home opener, but they are getting some good fortune in this series in missing Williams. However, Jordan Lyles and Joe Musgrove have each had solid starts.
The Bucs’ lineup also has some new faces. Mainstays Starling Marté, Josh Bell and Francisco Cervelli are joined by veteran Melky Cabrera and returning infielder Jung Ho Kang. Kang hasn’t been a regular since 2016 due to a laundry list of abhorrent behavior that jeopardized his ability to live and work in the United States. The Pirates’ lineup would receive a boost if Kang were to return to form.
The Bucs’ bullpen got off to a rocky start, blowing leads in each of the season’s first four games. Since then, however, it has begun to stabilize. All-Star closer Felipe Vazquez leads a group that has been better as the season has gone on and should be a strength of the team.
Must be nice!
The Cubs’ season to this point has largely been defined by catastrophically bad pitching performances, particularly out of the bullpen. The team has already begun the excommunication of ineffective relievers, optioning Carl Edwards Jr. to Iowa and placing Mike Montgomery on the injured list. Relievers Allen Webster and Kyle Ryan have been called up to replace the struggling pitchers.
If the Cubs are going to reverse their early fortunes, they’ll have to rack up wins against a division full of competent teams, the Pirates included. They got off to a bad start this past weekend in Milwaukee and will have to try to right the ship in front of what is sure to be a restless crowd at the remodeled Wrigley Field.
Game Time and Broadcast Info
- Monday, April 8 at 1:20pm on ABC-7
- Wednesday, April 10 at 7:05pm on WGN
- Thursday, April 11 at 7:05pm on NBC Sports Chicago
What to Watch For
- The Cubs’ bats have been by far the biggest bright spot of the team so far. Anthony Rizzo, Javier Báez, Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, and Willson Contreras are all off to relatively strong starts. However, Wrigley in April will likely represent the worst hitting conditions the team has faced thus far so it will be worth keeping an eye on how the offensive success translates to less favorable conditions.
- Lester is the only Cubs pitcher who hasn’t had a significant blowup this year. It’s a welcome treat for Cubs fans that he’ll get to start the home opener after also starting Opening Day in Texas.
- Darvish was better in his last start against the Braves, but it’d be a stretch to say he was good. Darvish allowed nine baserunners in 4+ innings pitched before being controversially pulled by manager Joe Maddon. Hopes are high for Darvish this year after an injury-plagued 2018 and you know he’d like nothing more than to dazzle in front of a home crowd.
- Albert Almora Jr. is off to a pretty dreadful start this year and, perhaps not coincidentally, Heyward has gotten a couple of starts in center to allow both Schwarber and Ben Zobrist to be in the lineup. With all three Pirates starters being right-handed, we may see more of Heyward in center this series.