Saturday, September 23, 2023
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MLB Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates (70-80) at Chicago Cubs (78-72)


THE PIRATES:..had the day off yesterday…Went 4-3 on their seven-game homestand against the Nationals (3-1) and Yankees (1-2)…Have gone 12-7 since 8/28, which is tied for the third-best record in MLB (the Yankees lead the way with a 14-6 record in that time followed by the Orioles with a 13-7 record)…Won five straight games from 8/28 to 9/2, their third-longest winning streak of the season (the team won a season-high seven straight games from 4/17-23)…Have won four games this season when trailing after eight innings (won three games when trailing after eight last season)…Have gone 29-26 in their last 55 games since losing each of their first five games following the All-Star break.

ROSTER MOVE: Prior to tonight’s game the Pirates selected the contract of right-handed pitcher Kyle Nicolas from Triple-A Indianapolis…Right-handed pitcher Thomas Hatch has been optioned to Triple-A to make room for Nicolas on the 28-man active roster…Designated hitter/outfielder Andrew McCutchen has been transferred from the 10- to the 60-day injured list to make room for Nicolas on the 40-man roster…Nicolas, who has no previous big league experience, will wear uniform No. 62.

A PROMOTION IS IN ORDER: Kyle Nicolas comes into today rated as Pittsburgh’s No. 26 prospect according to MLB Pipeline…The 24-year-old righthander was one of three players acquired by the Pirates from Miami in exchange for Jacob Stallings on November 29, 2021…Prior to his promotion, Nicolas had a 1.20 ERA (15.0ip/2er), 24 strikeouts, 0.80 WHIP and .118 batting average against (6-for-51) in his last 12 appearances (one start) with Triple-A Indianapolis.

ABOUT TONIGHT’S STARTER: Bailey Falter will start tonight after limiting the Nationals to one run in 6.0 innings while earning his second win as a member of the Pirates one week ago tonight…Since allowing six runs on seven hits in 4.2 innings in his start against the Cubs on August 27, Falter has a 1.35 ERA (13.1ip/2er) and .136 batting average against in his last three appearances (one start).

THE ROAD AHEAD: Tonight the Pirates will begin their final road trip of the 2023 campaign…The 10-day, nine-game trip begins with this three-game series at Wrigley Field…This weekend the Pirates will return to Cincinnati for the first time since their season-opening series that began on March 30…Following a day off on September 27, the trip will conclude with three games against the Phillies from September 28-30.

B. REY AND THE WANER BROTHERS: Bryan Reynolds has recorded 75 RBI out of the second spot of the lineup this season…According to StatsPass, that’s the second-most RBI in a single season in Pirates history from that spot of the lineup…The only Pirate to knock in more runs from the second spot of the lineup is Paul Waner (80 in 1932)…Lloyd Waner ranks third with 74 in 1929.

DOWN ON THE FARM: 2022 first round draft pick Termarr Johnson was named to the Florida State League’s post-season All-Star team today…The 19-year-old Johnson, who is currently rated as the No. 1 prospect among second basemen by MLB Pipeline, hit .244 with 10 doubles, one triple, 13 home runs, 44 RBI, 72 walks, .419 OBP, .448 slugging percentage and .867 OPS in 75 games with Bradenton before being promoted to Greensboro on August 1…He finished the season with a 30-game on-base streak with Greensboro.

A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY: Ke’Bryan Hayes comes into today ranked third in all of Major League Baseball with 22 Defensive Runs Saved regardless of position according to the Fielding Bible… The only two players with more Defensive Runs Saved according to the Fielding Bible are Daulton Varsho (27) and Fernando Tatis Jr. (24)…Since the beginning of 2020, Hayes leads all third basemen with 66 Defensive Runs Saved according to the Fielding Bible (the next closest is Ryan McMahon with 42)…A Pirates third baseman has never taken home a Rawlings Gold Glove.

PLAY RENEGADE: David Bednar has a Major-League leading 18 saves since the All-Star break…Pittsburgh’s 2023 Clemente Award nominee also leads MLB with seven saves this month…Bednar also comes into today fourth in all of MLB with 36 saves, trailing only Cleveland’s Emmanuel Clase (41), Cincinnati’s Alexis Diaz (37) and San Francisco’s Camilo Doval (37).

BAILEY FALTER: The 26-year-old lefthander will make ninth appearance (sixth start) with the Pirates tonight after being acquired from the Phillies on 8/1 in exchange for infielder Rodolfo Castro… Allowed one run in 6.0 innings while picking up his second win as a Pirate in his last start last Tuesday against the Nationals.

VS. CHICAGO (NL): 0-2 with a 10.13 ERA (13.1ip/15er) in five career appearances (two starts)…Lost a 10-1 decision (4.2ip/6r) on 8/27 at PNC Park…He also lost a 4-3 decision (5.0ip/4r) in his start last year on 7/24 at Citizens Bank Park…His other three appearances came in relief in 2021.


Cubs vs. Pirates
The Cubs and Pirates play 13 games spanning four series this season … Chicago swept Pittsburgh in two-straight three-game series, June 13- 15 at Wrigley Field and June 19-21 at PNC Park, before winning three of four in Pittsburgh Aug. 24-27 … the Cubs have won the last eight season series against Pittsburgh dating to 2015, including a 10-9 mark in 2022

SWEET HOME, WRIGLEY FIELD: The Chicago Cubs today open a six-game homestand following yesterday’s off day … Chicago Sunday fell to the Diamondbacks 6-2, closing out a six-game, seven-day road trip (1-5) … the Cubs are looking to snap the current season-long-tying five-game skid (also May 13-17) … Chicago is 2-8 in its last 10 games after going 14-5 in 19 contests from Aug. 19-Sept. 6. The Cubs have dropped three-straight series for the first time since losing fourstraight sets May 8-21 and suffered their sixth sweep of the season … still, Chicago is 12-4-2 in its last 18 series dating to July 17. The Cubs are 22-18 in their last 40 games and 37-21 in their last 58 games since July 18 … following play on July 20, the Cubs sat 7.0-games out of a wildcard spot and 8.5-games back of the division lead.

DIVISION FOES: Chicago has played 46 games this season against N.L. Central teams, going 28-18 in those matchups … the Cubs .609 winning percentage against the
division rivals is the highest against any division … what’s more, when comparing stats against each division, the Cubs hitters’ .274 batting average, .350 OBP, .451 slugging percentage and 6.0 runs per game against the N.L. Central are all top marks.

MERRYWEATHER MERRIMENT: Julian Merryweather has allowed just one run in his last 11 appearances since Aug. 20 (12.2 IP, 0.71 ERA), allowing two hits and striking out 17 batters, compared to four walks, with a 0.47 WHIP … among pitchers with at least 12.0 innings pitched in that span, his WHIP and opponent average (.054) rank first and his ERA is tied for seventh (tied for fourth among N.L. arms). Merryweather has held opponents scoreless in 18 of his last 22 outings since July 22 (4 ER/25.1 IP, 1.42 ERA) and not allowed multiple runs in a game since July 19.

FUN WITH NUMBERS: Ian Happ’s 93 free passes rank fourth in the majors and are the most by a Cub since Kris Bryant drew 95 walks in 2017 — the last Cub to reach 100
walks in a campaign is Carlos Peña, who had 101 in 2011. Cody Bellinger Saturday collected his 91st RBI … those are the most by a Cub since Kyle Schwarber (92) and Anthony Rizzo (94) in 2019. Julian Merryweather’s 91 strikeouts are the most for a Cubs reliever since Carl Edwards Jr. recorded 94 punchouts in 2017.

WHAT LIES AHEAD: Chicago has 12 regular season games remaining, including six at home and six on the road … six of those 12 games are against clubs with winning
records (3 against Atlanta and 3 against Milwaukee, all on the road) … the Cubs are in the third Wild Card position, 4.0 games behind Philadelphia for the top spot and a halfgame behind Arizona in the second spot … Chicago is 6.0 games behind Milwaukee in the N.L. Central Division.

ABOUT THE RECORD: The Cubs sit six games over .500 at 78-72 after reaching a season-high 12-games over .500 at 76-64 … Chicago was 26-36 following play on June 8 and this marks the first time in franchise history that the club reached 10 games over .500 in a season in which it sat at least 10 games under .500. Since waking up June 9 sitting at 26-36, the Cubs are 16-games over .500 at 52- 36 (.591), the third-best mark in the N.L. and tied for fourth in the majors behind Atlanta (58-30/.659), the Dodgers (56-30/.651) and Baltimore (56-32/.636). The team’s 78 victories this season already surpasses its output from all of last year in which the club finished 74-88. Chicago is 29-36 (.446) in games decided by two or fewer runs and 49-36 (.576) in games decided by three or more runs.

NICO REACHES 12: Nico Hoerner enters today with a career-high 12-game hitting streak in which he’s batting .373 (19-for-51) with a double, eight runs and five stolen bases since Sept. 5.

RUNNING MEN: The Cubs have swiped 129 bases this season, third-most in the N.L. and the most for Chicago in a single season since stealing 151 bases in 1990 … Nico Hoerner (41 steals) and Cody Bellinger (20) are the first Cubs duo to record at least 20 steals in a season since Tony Campana (30) and Starlin Castro (25) did so in 2012. With 41 stolen bases and 64 RBI, Hoerner is just the fifth Cub since 1901 to amass at least 40 steals and 64 RBI in a season and the first since Ryne Sandberg did so in 1985 (54 SB, 83 RBI).

A RESURGENT SEIYA: Seiya Suzuki in his last 30 games since Aug. 18 is hitting .348 (39-for-112) with a .405 on-base percentage and a .670 slugging mark … in that span, his 11 doubles are tied for the major league lead, his 20 XBH are tied for second, his .348 average is fifth, his 39 hits are tied for fifth and his 75 total bases are seventh. Suzuki’s 51 extra-base hits this season are the most by a Japanese-born Cub since Kosuke Fukudome had 54 in 2009.

DANSBY’S BEEN DIVINE: According to Fangraphs, Dansby Swanson leads major league shortstops with 16 defensive runs saved this season … at the dish, he is hitting .298 (17-for-57) with five doubles, a triple, a homer, eight RBI and 10 runs scored in his last 14 games since Sept. 3. Swanson is one of four shortstops to reach 20 home runs in each of the last three seasons, joining Willy Adames, Trea Turner and Francisco Lindor.

BELLI REACHING NEW HEIGHTS: Cody Bellinger is just the fourth Cub ever to reach 25 homers and 20 steals in a season, joining Ryne Sandberg (done in 1985, 1990 and 991), Sammy Sosa (done in 1991, 1993-95 and 1997) and Javier Báez (done in 2018). Bellinger’s 69 RBI since July 1 lead the majors (Matt Olson is second with 62 RBI in that span).

Starting Pitcher – #72 RHP Javier Assad (3-3, 3.10)
Last Time Out
Javier on Sept. 12 received a no-decision, allowing four runs in a start for the first time since Sept. 23, 2022, spanning 10 starts … walked a season-high four batters … has a 2.96 ERA (15 ER/45.2 IP) in eight starts since joining the rotation Aug. 5.

Date Opp. Result IP H R ER BB SO PC-S Left
9/12 @COL ND, 4-6 3.1 5 4 4 4 4 79-40 2-2, 2 on
2023 Splits and Season Notes
Home 0-3 3.71 16 4 51.0 48 22 21 23 42
Road 3-0 2.42 11 5 44.2 34 12 12 15 29
AVG vs. LHB: .231 (37-for-160) / AVG vs. RHB: .238 (45-for-189)

Javier is scheduled to make his 28th appearance of the season (10th start) tonight … has allowed 16 runs (15 earned) in 45.2 IP (2.96 ERA) in eight starts since being added to the rotation Aug. 5 … has pitched to a 2.12 ERA (16 ER/68.0 IP) in 17 outings (eight starts) since June 27 … is 4-3 with a 3.06 ERA (29 ER/85.1 IP) in 17 career starts, compared to 1-2 with a 3.19 ERA (17 ER/48.0 IP) in 19 career relief appearances. Registered a 14.0 IP scoreless streak spanning starts from Aug. 27-Sept.2. Sept. 2 in Cincinnati, tossed a career-high 8.0 scoreless innings with a career-high tying seven strikeouts. From June 27-August 4, posted a 0.40 ERA (1 ER/22.1 IP) in nine relief outings, the second-lowest ERA among major league relievers during that span (min. 15.0 IP) … held opponents scoreless in eight of the nine outings. Has made four starts over three stints with Triple-A Iowa in 2023 (April 10-20, April 21-May 3, May 12-24), going 0-1 with a 3.68 ERA (6 ER/14.2 IP). Made his first career Opening Day roster, appearing in two games in relief (6 ER/4.1 IP) … was optioned to Iowa April 10. Pitched in three games (one start) in spring training, posting a 2.57 ERA (2 ER/7.0 IP). Pitched for Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, tossing 5.2 scoreless innings with six strikeouts in two relief appearances.

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