Cubs-Pirates Preview

The Chicago Cubs are over .500 two weeks into the season for the first time since 2009, which also happens to be the last time they finished over .500.

If they'd like to remain there Monday night as they open a four-game road set against the Pittsburgh Pirates, they'll probably have to provide Jake Arrieta with a little more offense than they have in his first two starts.

With Jon Lester struggling through his first three starts, Arrieta (1-1, 1.98 ERA) has thus far been the club's top starter, though he's received two runs of support in 13 2-3 innings. All three runs he's allowed came in one inning of Tuesday's 3-2 home loss to Cincinnati. The right-hander surrendered seven hits in 6 2-3 innings for his first defeat in six starts dating to last season, over which he's 4-1 with a 1.29 ERA and .172 opponent batting average.

He's also 3-0 with a 3.13 ERA in four starts against Pittsburgh while limiting Neil Walker to 1 for 12 and Pedro Alvarez to 1 for 8.

Offensively, Chicago (6-5) remains inconsistent. After winning consecutive series, the Cubs fell 5-2 to San Diego on Sunday and dropped two of three to the Padres. They're batting .227 and .208 with runners in scoring position, though it sounds like manager Joe Maddon expects that to improve with Kris Bryant becoming more comfortable.

The rookie third baseman doubled against the Padres and is 3 for 6 with three walks since going 0 for 4 in his debut Friday.

"It's not always about getting hits. His at-bats just kept getting better," Maddon told MLB's official website. "The bat speed's really good. More than anything, the fact that he maintained a structured strike zone and would not get out of his own zone, he was just fine."

The Pirates (6-6) have won 14 of 20 meetings in Pittsburgh over the past two seasons while limiting the Cubs to 2.50 runs per game. They were 14-5 overall against Chicago a season ago.

A.J. Burnett, however, has been beatable for the Cubs lately. The veteran right-hander started his career with a 6-0 record through seven starts. Since, he's 1-4 with a 3.82 ERA in six starts, including a pair of losses a season ago while pitching for Philadelphia. Starlin Castro is batting .448 (13 for 29) against him and fellow infielder Jonathan Herrera is 4 for 4.

Burnett (0-1, 2.25) has pitched well in his return to Pittsburgh, though he too has only received two runs of support through 12 innings. He was stuck with the decision in Tuesday's 2-0 home loss to Detroit after yielding a run and seven hits in 6 2-3 innings. He's struck out 15 batters and walked three.

"He was able to make his pitches, get his fastball in locations he wanted to," manager Clint Hurdle said. "His breaking ball had real good depth and tilt. ... Very efficient. Very strong outing."

The Pirates' starting pitching has been impressive since before Burnett's last start with the rotation combining for a 1.86 ERA in the last six games. They completed a three-game home sweep of Milwaukee with Sunday's 5-2 victory.

Pittsburgh is hitting just .222 but is at .293 with runners in scoring position. The middle of the order is yet to really get going with Andrew McCutchen (.211), Walker (.238) and Starling Marte (.171) all struggling. McCutchen is batting .389 with four homers in his last 13 games against Chicago, and Marte's .312 career average against the Cubs is his best against any NL Central opponent.


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