The Chicago Cubs will be looking to keep building on their offense Saturday afternoon when they play the second game of a series in Pittsburgh against the Pirates.
In the series opener Thursday, the Cubs scored a 4-2 win with all of their runs on homers by Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo — three players they count on heavily for offense, but who have struggled in the early going this season.
Most notably, the Cubs had a season-high 11 hits against the struggling Pirates. Heading into that game, Chicago had a .124 team batting average that, according to the team’s website, was the second-worst team average through six games since 1900 (the 2013 Pirates hit .119 over their first six games).
“It’s nice to get the big boys going,” Chicago manager David Ross said after the team’s first road game. “When they have a good day, we’ve got a really good offense and a good chance to win that day.”
Even after the outburst, through seven games the Cubs’ .157 team average is the worst in the major leagues.
“We’re having fun, even when we lose games,” Baez said. “Obviously, we’re not trying to lose games, but we’re giving everything we have, so at the end of the game, we try to stay together and be a family in the clubhouse.”
The Pirates know what a win feels like, assuming they can remember back to their season opener. They spoiled the Cubs’ home opener April 1, 5-3.
Since then, Pittsburgh has lost six in a row by a collective 43-14, four of those losses to the Cubs, including Thursday’s home opener.
It was the first time there were fans at PNC Park in more than 18 months, albeit less than 8,000 per COVID-19 restrictions.
Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton enjoyed having people replace cardboard cutouts in the seats, and said he hopes their appreciation includes understanding that the Pirates are in a rebuilding mode.
“It was great to be back in this ballpark with fans,” Shelton said. “I think our fans realize that we’re building something here, and that’s going to be a journey.”
For Saturday, Chicago right-hander Zach Davies (1-0, 3.18 ERA) is scheduled to face Pittsburgh right-hander Mitch Keller (0-1, 9.00 ERA), a rematch from Sunday’s 4-3 Cubs’ win at Wrigley Field.
Davies made his Cubs debut that game, giving up two runs and four hits in 5 2/3 innings. He is 5-5 with a 4.34 ERA in 15 career starts against Pittsburgh.
“He’s a really, really confident pitcher,” Chicago’s Ian Happ said. “He doesn’t try to do too much. He works both corners, and he really understands himself.”
Keller, in that first outing, had command issues in pitching on his 25th birthday. He threw 31 pitches in the first inning, 77 overall in three innings, and gave up three runs on two hits and four walks, with four strikeouts.
“I wasn’t nibbling, I just didn’t have it,” Keller said. “I feel like I’m really close to being really good. You just have to attack the (strike) zone and fill it more and get ahead in counts.
“I know what I need to do. I’m not pressing. It’s all going to come through reps. The more times I do it, the more times I can experience it and know what works and doesn’t work.”
That start left Keller 0-3 with a 7.20 ERA in four career starts against the Cubs.
–Field Level Media