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Cubs at Pirates Series Preview: Battle With Bucs Moves to Pittsburgh

The Cubs and Pirates will battle for the second time in the early stages of the 2021 season when the North Siders visit Pittsburgh for a 3-game set.
Cubs Pirates

Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Chicago Cubs enter a three-game weekend set with the Pittsburgh Pirates following a rather underwhelming series loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. After taking the opener vs. the Brew Crew, the Cubs failed to duplicate any sort of offensive output the next two games. The Cubs have the least amount of hits of any team that has played six games, which is less than ideal. The good news is that everything outside the offense has been satisfactory so far.

Through the First 6 Games

After walking 11 batters on Opening Day, the Cubs pitchers brought that total down to 12 in their next five games. While that figure would ideally dip even lower, it's definitely still manageable.

Not including Kyle Hendricks' scoreless six-inning performance on Wednesday, the collective ERA of Cubs starting pitchers sits at 3.20 after one cycle through the rotation. That's a positive the North Siders can build on.

Pitching is clearly not the issue at this point, but the lack of offensive production is a glaring concern.

Quiet Bats

After being shut out in the middle game of the Milwaukee series and collecting just three hits in the finale, there are justifiable concerns about the Cubs lack of production at the plate. They believe that's about to change, however.

Joc Pederson said after Wednesday's extra-inning loss to the Brewers that good things are coming soon, and to "enjoy the show."

Pederson launched his first Cubs home run and followed that up with a hard-hit ball that just didn't have enough to leave the yard, so hopefully that's a sign of things starting to trend upward for the Cubs lineup as a whole.

Playing the rebuilding Pirates may be just the thing that wakes them up. Let's dive into the matchups as we preview the Cubs and Pirates dueling it out in already the second head-to-head series matchup of the young 2021 season.

Game 1: Jake Arrieta vs. Tyler Anderson

Game 1 will feature a rematch of last Saturday's matchup, a contest the Cubs won 5-1. Jake Arrieta earned the win that day by posting a final line of 6 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K. Tyler Anderson absorbed the loss with the following line: 5 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 7 K.

In a rare early-season occurrence, the Cubs were to hit and score early to prevail in the aforementioned matchup. They initially fell behind 1-0 but quickly gained the lead and never looked back. It's no coincidence that all three Cubs wins to date have featured early scoring action. The most important thing for them is to score in the first three innings. Anderson is vulnerable, and the Cubs trot out multiple dangerous right-handed hitters for him to face. Expect David Ross to utilize the same exact lineup he did last time out against Anderson, which means Kris Bryant will be in the outfield with Ian Happ and Jake Marisnick.

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Arrieta needs to do exactly what he did the first time -- get ahead in counts and let his stuff do the talking. He experienced rough command of his fastball but had enjoyed great movement with all of his pitches last time out. The longer he can pitch the better.

Game 2: Zach Davies vs. Mitch Keller

Zach Davies Cubs

Photo: Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune

Minus a Colin Moran two-run homer, Davies put together a strong Cubs debut with a finale line of 5.2 IP, 4H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 5 K. Allowing three walks may be the one dig on that line, but Davies should be able to better harness his command as he settles in in a Cubs uniform. Just like Arrieta, the longer Davies can pitch the better. That will require him to keep his pitch count down by attacking hitters with a first-pitch strike and using the outstanding Cubs defense to his advantage.

As for Mitch Keller, the Cubs got to him early last time out. His final line read 3 IP, 2H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 4 K. The Cubs used smart base running and situational hitting to attack Keller early. Bryant logged an opposite-field RBI single and Pederson grounded out to drive in Rizzo and put the Cubs up in the first, a lead which they would never relinquish.

The lineup will be packed with lefties against Keller due to his .317 batting average against LHH during his short career to date. Pederson will be the catalyst, so hopefully he can carry momentum from his big homer on Wednesday to propel him back to the level of offensive pop Cubs fans enjoyed throughout Spring Training.

Game 3: Trevor Williams vs. JT Brubaker

Trevor Williams was outstanding in his Cubs debut to the tune of 6 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 6 K. He carried a no-hit bid into the seventh inning before giving up two runs and exiting the game. It was a special day for Williams and his family because his dad grew up a Cubs fan and was able to sit up close to watch his son pitch at Wrigley Field thanks to Jason Heyward.

Now, Williams will be heading back to Pittsburgh to face his former team. To be successful against the Pirates, he needs to replicate what made him successful in his first start: first-pitch strikes and keeping the ball on the ground. The Cubs defense has been dazzling so far and Williams knows how to take advantage of that with his 42.5% groundball rate.

JT Brubaker has made three starts against the Cubs dating back to last year with a combined line of 14.2 IP, 12 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 17 K. It's been a bit of a rough go early in his career, evidenced by a 4.73 ERA, but his innings against the Cubs have gone well. We have seen Brubaker's ability to strike out hitters, which could be a problem for the Cubs' strikeout-prone lineup. If the Cubs can keep their K total under five against Brubaker, they will set themselves up for success against Brubaker. The key is early hitting, just as it is every game. Much like in Game 2 of this series, expect to see the Cubs lineup loaded with lefties with the possible exception of David Bote, depending on how Eric Sogard performs.

The Cubs and Pirates play a 12:35 PM CT matinee for the Pittsburgh home opener on Thursday. First pitch on Saturday is set for 5:35 PM CT before the Sunday afternoon series finale at 12:05 PM CT.

Stay up to date on the Cubs all season by tuning in to the Cubs On Tap podcast for postgame shows plus additional analysis and commentary.