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Clinging to wild-card spot, Cubs look for another win vs. Pirates

Sep 9, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Justin Steele (35) throws the ball against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the first inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Cubs aren’t making things easy on themselves when it comes to securing a postseason spot.

They’ll look to avoid a second straight loss, and series defeat, to another sub-.500 club in this rubber game against the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday night.

Chicago (79-73) currently holds the final National League wild-card position — a half-game lead over the Miami Marlins — but has dropped nine of 12. The Cubs are 2-3 against Colorado and Pittsburgh — a combined 50 games under .500 — during that rut. They snapped a five-game skid with Tuesday’s 14-1 rout of the Pirates, but fell 13-7 on Wednesday.

Pittsburgh (71-81) used a seven-run fourth inning, knocking out Chicago ace Justin Steele in the process, to beat the Cubs for just the second time in 12 season meetings. The Pirates also snapped a six-game slide at Wrigley Field.

“Kind of have to move on from it,” said Steele, an NL Cy Young Award candidate who has allowed six earned runs in each of his past two starts.

In his career vs. the Pirates, Steele is 1-2 with an ERA of 5.40 and 31 strikeouts in six games (five starts).

The Cubs are 2-1 with scheduled starter Kyle Hendricks (6-7, 3.77 ERA) on the mound this month. However, the veteran right-hander owns a 4.96 ERA and hasn’t completed six innings in any of those September outings. Hendricks allowed three runs and seven hits over 5 1/3 innings of Saturday’s 7-6, 13-inning loss at Arizona.

Hendricks, though has been solid against Pittsburgh this season, going 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA. However, Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes is 8-for-18 with a double and two homers versus Hendricks.

Hayes is 5-for-9 in this series, and batting .342 with 27 RBIs in his past 37 games for the Pirates, who are hoping to ride veterans like Hayes and some promising youth to a solid finish. And, possibly deliver a blow to the Cubs’ postseason chances.

“It’s a good environment for them to be in a playoff atmosphere here in Chicago,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said.

“We’re getting different experiences. … The biggest thing that we can take is how we focus on it, and how we get better.”

Scheduled Pittsburgh starter Johan Oviedo (8-14, 4.27) faces the Cubs for a third time this season. On June 15, he allowed four runs and eight hits through 4 1/3 innings of a 7-2 loss at Wrigley Field. However, despite the Pirates’ 4-0 loss at home to Chicago five days later, the right-hander yielded just two runs in six innings.

He is 1-4 with an ERA of 4.19 and 39 strikeouts in nine career appearances (eight starts) against the Cubs.

Oviedo allowed eight runs — six earned — through 7 1/3 innings of his first two September starts. Then, he overcame five walks and four hits to give up a single run, while striking out seven, during Friday’s 7-5 loss to the New York Yankees.

Chicago star and Pittsburgh native Ian Happ is 8-for-16 with two doubles and two triples versus Oviedo. Happ, who clubbed a grand slam Wednesday, is batting .321 with 17 homers and 62 RBIs in 94 career games against the Pirates.

With three hits Tuesday and an RBI single on Wednesday, teammate Seiya Suzuki is batting .355 with 30 RBIs and an OPS of 1.114 in his past 38 games.

–Field Level Media

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