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Series preview: Pirates head to Wrigley to open season

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Happy Opening Day!

Pittsburgh Pirates v Chicago Cubs Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Pittsburgh Pirates (0-0) vs. Chicago Cubs (0-0), April 1-4, 2021

Location: Wrigley Field, Chicago, Illinois

TV: AT&T Sports Pittsburgh

Radio: KDKA-AM

Cubs SB Nation Site: Bleed Cubbie Blue


Pittsburgh Pirates baseball returns this weekend with a three-game series at Wrigley Field against the division rival Cubs.

The 2020 standings found the Cubs and Pirates at opposite ends in the NL Central, but a new year brings on new possibilities.

Here’s a look at what we can expect this weekend:

Projected Starters

Thursday, 2:20 p.m. EST

Chad Kuhl (0-0, 4.91 ERA in 4 starts in 2020) vs. Kyle Hendricks (0-1, 2.63 ERA in 4 starts in 2020)

Saturday, 2:20 p.m. EST

Tyler Anderson (4-3, 4.37 ERA in 11 starts in 2020) vs. Jake Arrieta (2-1, 4.82 ERA in 3 starts with Phillies in 2020)

Sunday, 2:20 p.m. EST

Mitch Keller (1-1, 2.91 ERA in 5 starts in 2020) vs. Zach Davies (1-0, 1.13 ERA in 3 starts with Padres in 2020)

Projected Lineups

Pirates

  1. Adam Frazier (2B)
  2. Ke’Bryan Hayes (3B)
  3. Bryan Reynolds (LF)
  4. Colin Moran (1B)
  5. Gregory Polanco (RF)
  6. Kevin Newman (SS)
  7. Jacob Stallings (C)
  8. Anthony Alford (CF)
  9. Starting Pitcher

Cubs

  1. Ian Happ (LF)
  2. Willson Contreras (C)
  3. Anthony Rizzo (1B)
  4. Kris Bryant (3B)
  5. Joc Pederson (CF)
  6. Javier Baez (SS)
  7. Jason Heyward (RF)
  8. David Bote (2B)
  9. Starting Pitcher

We spoke with Al Yellon from our sister site Bleed Cubbie Blue to discuss some storylines for the Cubs heading into 2021. Here’s what he had to say about the team:

1. What are the expectations for the Cubs in 2021?

Al Yellon: I, personally, expect the Cubs to be a serious contender for the NL Central title.

Others scoff at this. They point to players like Javier Baez and Kris Bryant who had bad years in 2020 and wonder how the Cubs can do well. Those two plus Anthony Rizzo are pending free agents and it’s legitimate to ask whether this will have an effect on the team’s play.

The core of this Cubs team has been together since 2015. That’s a fairly long time in modern baseball. In that time they have won three division titles, two wild card spots and one World Series championship.

That’s better than any Cubs team has done in over a century. This really is the Golden Age of Cubs baseball. It’s also just about as good as almost any franchise in recent times. No team has repeated as World Series champions since the Yankees in 1999-2000. There’s a reason for that — it’s really hard under modern baseball conditions.

It’s really important for the Cubs to get off to a good start and be at or near the top of the division early. Because if they don’t, there’s likely to be a big selloff at the trading deadline.

2. The team lost Yu Darvish this offseason, but Kyle Hendricks is still really good. What can we expect from him in his Opening Day start?

Yellon: Kyle Hendricks is a throwback. By this I mean that he wins not by throwing hard, as most modern starters do, but by locating his pitches with precision and inducing weak contact. He’s got a devastating changeup that can strike out hitters. This is why he has a career strikeout rate of 7.6 per nine innings while almost never hitting 90 miles per hour with his fastball. His ability to locate well has him with a career walk rate of 1.9 per nine innings and he led MLB in 2020 with just eight walks in 81.1 innings.

It’s really important for Kyle to have a strong infield defense behind him as he gets hitters to tap weak ground balls. If those two things happen, Hendricks should have a successful Opening Day start.

3. What is one thing that Pirates fans may be surprised about the Cubs this year?

Yellon: I’d say Joc Pederson, but he shouldn’t be a surprise after dominating Cactus League play and leading all MLB players with eight home runs. I expect Joc to have a big season.

My pick for “big surprise” for the Cubs is David Bote, who recently won the fulltime second base job. I look for Bote to have a breakout season and possibly hit 25 home runs.