Cubs go for sweep of struggling Pirates

MLB

The Chicago Cubs will go for a sweep of their three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates in a matinee Thursday at PNC Park.

The Cubs (22-14) have won three straight overall and four of five, and have been riding an explosive offense.

Chicago has belted 17 home runs in its past six games, which makes the one it got in Tuesday’s 8-2 win, a three-run shot by Javy Baez, seem a little paltry.

It’s not just power. The Cubs have banged out 22 hits and scored 16 runs through the first two games of this series.

Cubs manager David Ross isn’t taking the offense for granted, considering there were times earlier this season when it seemed quiet by comparison to lately.

“We take it day to day,” Ross said. “Hitting is so difficult. It’s really a daily process and a plan each day.”

One of the catalysts is center fielder Ian Happ, who leads the team with a .308 batting average and is tied for the club lead with 10 homers. He had four homers in three games before being “held” to a single, a double and a run scored Wednesday.

“The way (Happ) has attacked the baseball and the quality of the bat continues to stand out to me,” Ross said. “It’s always been in the back of my mind whenever he started getting back to who we thought he was and who he thought he was.”

Happ, who spent his first few seasons trying to find consistency and spent stretches in the minor leagues, has recently been elevated to the leadoff spot in the lineup.

Pittsburgh (10-24), which has lost five of six, hasn’t been dormant at the plate — it has a season-long streak of six straight games with a homer, including towering solo shots Wednesday from Colin Moran and newcomer Anthony Alford — but it hasn’t been effective enough to get anywhere close to .500.

In addition, the Pirates have helped opponents by leading the majors with 33 errors. They had three Tuesday, with shortstop Kevin Newman’s fielding bobble leading directly to two Chicago runs.

“We cannot give teams extra outs. We cannot give teams extra bases. Especially a team that’s the best team, record-wise, in our division,” Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said. “We have to continue to work on it. We have to continue to make adjustments. (Wednesday) was sloppy. We’ve got to be better than that.”

In the series finale, Chicago right-hander Alec Mills (3-2, 5.23 ERA) is scheduled to face Pittsburgh right-hander JT Brubaker (0-0, 4.50 ERA).

Mills is coming off his shortest outing of the year, three innings Saturday against the Reds. He gave up just four hits, but three of them were homers.

That seems like an outlier for Mills, who had not given up more than one homer in a game previously.

This will be Mills’ first career start against the Pirates. He has a 4.15 ERA in four relief appearances against Pittsburgh and earned his only career save against the Pirates in a three-inning, two-hit outing in September 2019.

Brubaker has a 6.00 ERA over his first four starts. The rookie is coming off a no-decision Saturday in Milwaukee, when he gave up two runs and three hits in five innings, with six strikeouts and three walks.

He pitched three scoreless innings of relief Aug. 1 in his only appearance against the Cubs.

–Field Level Media

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