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Series Preview: Bucs host Cubs

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Pittsburgh Pirates v San Francisco Giants Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Pirates begin their final homestand of the season at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday, as the reeling Chicago Cubs – on virtual life support -- visit PNC Park to start a three-game series.

The Cubs (82-74) experienced a nightmare of a series with NL Central rival St. Louis at Wrigley Field over the weekend, dropping all four games by one run – one in extra innings and two after relinquishing leads in the ninth inning.

Chicago now trails NL Central foe Milwaukee (86-70) by four games in the race for the second NL wild-card slot with six games remaining. The Brewers, meanwhile, fresh off their three-game weekend sweep of the Pirates, are just a half-game behind Washington (86-69) in the battle for the top wild-card position.

St. Louis’ sweep of the Cubs enabled the Cards to clinch a playoff spot, and St. Louis will get one more crack at finishing off their Windy City rivals in the season’s final three games in case the Pirates aren’t able to do so over the next three games.

The Pirates, meanwhile, are in yet another nosedive, having lost nine straight games. They’ll look to snap out of it behind young right-hander Mitch Keller, who will take on Cubs’ veteran Kyle Hendricks (11-9, 3.37 ERA) in the series opener.

Hendricks is on a bit of a roll, as he’s 2-0 with a 2.74 ERA in his four starts this month. He has started three times against the Pirates this year and has put up a 2.25 ERA.

Keller has had a rough go of it in his rookie season, logging a 1-5 record and a 7.74 ERA in his first trip through the majors.

In 43 innings, Keller has surrendered 65 hits and 37 earned runs to go with 14 walks and 58 strikeouts. He has gone longer than five innings just once – a stellar six-inning start against the Reds on Aug. 23.

Keller’s last outing was somewhat encouraging, as he yielded two earned runs in five innings while striking out seven and walking two. But he was still on the losing end of a 6-0 decision to Seattle on Sept. 17.

Wednesday’s second game of the series will pit Dario Agrazal, another young right-hander for the Pirates, against veteran southpaw Jon Lester. Agrazal currently owns a 4-5 record and a 5.08 ERA while Lester brings a 13-10 mark and a 4.51 ERA to Wednesday’s 7:05 p.m. start.

Chicago’s starter for Thursday’s 7:05 p.m. series finale has yet to be determined. Joe Musgrove (10-12, 4.49 ERA) is scheduled to start for Pittsburgh.

SCHEDULE

Tuesday, 7:05 p.m. – Kyle Hendricks (11-9, 3.37) vs Mitch Keller (1-5, 7.74)

Wednesday, 7:05 p.m. – Jon Lester (13-10, 4.51) vs Dario Agrazal (4-5, 5.08)

Thursday, 7:05 p.m. – TBD vs Joe Musgrove (10-12, 4.49)

Notes: The Pirates’ current streak has seen ineptitude of nearly historic levels, as they’ve given up 87 runs during their nine-game losing stretch. That’s one run shy of the modern-day franchise record, according to MLB Network research. The Pirate also have managed just one home run during that time while yielding 24 round-trippers. Overall, the Pirates are 21-46 during the second half after going 44-45 up to the All-Star break. … Rookie outfielder Bryan Reynolds’ bid to win the NL batting crown appears to be doomed as well. Reynolds will take a .318 average into the final six games and is currently fourth in the race. Ketel Marte of Arizona and the injured Christian Yelich are tied for the league lead with a .329 mark, and trailing them is Anthony Rendon at .325.