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Series preview: Pirates to try again against Cubs

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Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The Pirates' last series against the Cubs began less than two weeks ago and didn't go well, with the Cubs sweeping the Bucs and winning the three games by a combined score of 20-5. Spending too much time previewing this series, then, might be masochistic, but let's see if we can expect anything new this time around.

Game times and probable pitchers

Friday, 2:20: Francisco Liriano vs. Jason Hammel
Saturday, 2:20: Jeff Locke vs. Jake Arrieta
Sunday, 2:20: Gerrit Cole vs. Jon Lester

The Cubs are starting the same three pitchers they did last time, although the Pirates' probables are different -- last time they started Jon Niese and Juan Nicasio rather than Liriano and Locke. That's at least somewhat interesting, in that it means the Cubs will have to face two lefties. The Cubs are batting .263/.368/.432 for the season so far, but only .240/.368/.369 against lefties. That's in only 324 plate appearances, and we don't want to get too excited about any edge we think the Pirates' lefty starters might give them -- I mean, one of the lefties is Jeff Locke, and he'll be facing Jake Arrieta. (By the way, in the wake of Stephen Strasburg's new deal with the Nationals, expect to hear some discussion this series about what might constitute a fair extension for Arrieta.) But there is perhaps something to be said for someone like Liriano somewhat neutralizing a lefty slugger like Anthony Rizzo.

Position players

C David Ross, Tim Federowicz
1B Anthony Rizzo
2B Ben Zobrist
SS Addison Russell
3B Kris Bryant
IF Javier Baez
IF Tommy La Stella
LF Jorge Soler
CF Dexter Fowler
RF Jason Heyward
OF Ryan Kalish

The only change from last time is that Kalish replaces Matt Szczur, who's now on the DL with a hamstring strain. Kalish was hitting .368/.471/.509 for Triple-A Iowa, although he's essentially just a lefty-hitting role player who's followed Theo Epstein from Boston to Chicago. He doesn't seem likely to play much. The Cubs also recently sent Miguel Montero (back) on a rehab assignment to Iowa, although they don't seem likely to activate him for this series.

The offense's weakness, at least for now, appears to be its outfield. Kyle Schwarber, of course, is out for the season, and Soler and Heyward are batting .130/.167/.174 and .194/.286/.226, respectively, in May. On the flip side, Zobrist has hit .405/.500/.757, while Rizzo is hitting .381/.500/.667. (That Rizzo is having a good month will come as no surprise to Pirates fans who watched the last series.) Russell and Fowler have come on strong lately as well.

Bullpen

Hector Rondon
Trevor Wood
Pedro Strop
Adam Warren
Justin Grimm
Neil Ramirez
Trevor Cahill
Clayton Richard

No changes here, although perhaps it's worth noting that the Cubs' bullpen has shown some signs of vulnerability recently, posting a 4.93 ERA, 9.1 K/9 and a way-too-high 5.7 BB/9 in May. That includes eight runs in 6.1 innings in their recent series against San Diego.

In that series, of course, the Cubs lost both ends of a doubleheader. That, for the 2016 Cubs, is what constitutes a losing streak. Maybe the Pirates can keep that going, particularly with Liriano first up to pitch.