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Preview: Pirates at Cubs

Current Conditions – Chicago
SUNNY 77 °F
Wind: NNW 12
5-Day Forecast GAME: Pittsburgh Pirates (94-60) at Chicago Cubs (89-64)
DATE/TIME: Saturday, September 26 – 1:05 PM EST
WHERE: Wrigley Field, Chicago, Illinois
LINE: N/A TOTAL: N/A

The Pittsburgh Pirates are closing in on locking up home-field advantage in the National League wild-card game – unless they win the NL Central – and they’re doing it with dominant play on the road. The Pirates aim for an eighth consecutive win – all away from home – when they face the Chicago Cubs in the second of a three-game series Friday.

The Cubs missed out on their chance to clinch a postseason berth and celebrate with their fans when they left the tying run at third base in the ninth inning of a 3-2 loss in the series opener, but clinched later Friday when San Francisco lost in Oakland 5-4. Chicago will have to make up 4 1/2 games on the Pirates to avoid going to Pittsburgh – or St. Louis – for the NL wild-card game Oct. 7. The Pirates, who trail the Cardinals by three games, hand the ball to left-hander Francisco Liriano, who is 7-3 with a 2.47 ERA in 13 road starts this season and is 3-1 with a 2.00 ERA in four career outings at Wrigley Field. He will oppose Cubs right-hander Jason Hammel, who is 5-4 with a 3.86 ERA in 11 games (10 starts) against Pittsburgh.

TV: 1:05 p.m. ET, Fox

PITCHING MATCHUP: Pirates LH Francisco Liriano (11-7, 3.41 ERA) vs. Cubs RH Jason Hammel (9-6, 3.79)

Liriano has won seven of his last eight decisions, including the past two, thanks in part to strong run support. The 31-year-old is coming off a solid outing, as he held the Los Angeles Dodgers to two runs and struck out nine over seven innings in a win last Saturday, but he hasn’t posted consecutive quality starts since July. Liriano is 4-2 with a 2.56 ERA in 10 career starts against the Cubs, including a no-decision April 21 in which he allowed three runs and struck out nine over five frames.

Hammel has posted a 5.43 ERA and allowed opponents to hit .281 since the All-Star break, but he continues to grind through starts without his best stuff. The 33-year-old picked up his second win in his last three outings Monday against Milwaukee, allowing four runs (three earned) in five innings. Hammel’s best outing of the season came against the Pirates on April 27, when he struck out seven and allowed four hits over eight scoreless frames.

WALK-OFFS

1. Pittsburgh is 81-1 when leading after eight innings and 0-49 when trailing through eight.

2. The Cubs have lost consecutive home games for the first time since Aug. 18-19 and are trying to avoid their first three-game home skid since July 24-26.

3. Pirates OF Starling Marte has recorded at least one RBI in a career-high six consecutive games.

PREDICTION: Pirates 4, Cubs 3