Surging Cubs open three-game series vs. slumping Pirates

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May has been fairly merry for the Chicago Cubs, who are 13-7 this month heading into a three-game series against the struggling Pittsburgh Pirates that will open Tuesday evening in Pittsburgh.

The Cubs have won six of their past eight games and three straight series, including a 2-1, 10-inning win Sunday at St. Louis that, according to Cubs manager David Ross, was illustrative of the team’s identity.

“Guys fought to the end,” Ross said. “It’s kind of been the character of this group. Continue to not give up.”

That goes extra for the Cubs’ relievers.

The Chicago bullpen over the past 25 2/3 innings has given up one run — it was unearned — while chalking up 34 strikeouts, with nine walks and 11 hits. In May, the relievers have a combined 1.89 ERA.

“They just continue to feed off each other,” Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “We’ve got a really good group of veteran guys — guys that have been around the game for a while, have been in different roles.”

Different roles perhaps, but often a common outcome.

“You continue to lean on those guys, and they keep answering the bell,” Ross said.

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is coming home off a 1-5 trip that ended with three straight losses in Atlanta by a combined score of 33-3.

Over the four-game series against the Braves, the Pirates gave up 15 homers, the most by an opponent in any series in franchise history. For comparison’s sake, the Pirates have 30 total homers this season.

“It’s challenging when mistakes aren’t fouled off or not hit for singles,” Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said. “The learning lesson is if you do not execute good pitches to a lineup that is good … you are going to pay for it.”

The Pirates, who are following their six-game trip with a six-game homestand, gave up at least one first-inning run in five of those six road games. They lead the majors with 49 first-inning runs allowed, and they’ve given up at least one run in the first inning in 24 of their 46 games and more than one run in the first in 12 games.

Perhaps they can find some solace in knowing the Cubs are second at 37 first-inning runs allowed.

“When you get down in games, you do put a little pressure on yourself,” said Shelton, who seemed eager to put the road trip in the rear-view mirror. “(We’re going to) go home, have an off day (Monday) and then go after the Cubs.”

The Cubs are 5-4 against Pittsburgh this year, 1-2 at PNC Park.

In the series opener Tuesday, Chicago right-hander Jake Arrieta (4-4, 4.46 ERA) is scheduled to start, while the Pirates have not divulged their starter.

Pittsburgh general manager Ben Cherington, on his weekly radio spot on KDKA-FM, put forth right-hander Miguel Yajure, right-hander Cody Ponce and right-hander Chase De Jong as options for Tuesday.

Arrieta is 14-6 with a 2.88 ERA in 25 career starts against the Pirates, the most wins he has against any opponent. That includes winning both of his starts against Pittsburgh this year, both in the first half of April and both six-inning outings.

–Field Level Media

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