The Chicago Cubs know they have little margin for error if they’re to keep their remote playoff hopes alive. The Pittsburgh Pirates, on the other hand, would just like to play a game without being part of a major league record for futility.
The Cubs go for a three-game sweep and a sixth consecutive victory over the listless Pirates on Wednesday afternoon at PNC Park.
Chicago (70-67) is eight games behind Colorado in the NL wild-card race, and with three other teams between it and the Rockies, the franchise’s century-long drought without a World Series title will all but certainly be extended.
Despite another season of disappointment, the Cubs haven’t had any problem beating Pittsburgh (54-83). After sending the Pirates to a North American professional sports record-setting 17th consecutive losing season Monday in a 4-2 win, Chicago tied a major league record by notching eight consecutive hits to lead off Tuesday’s game, scoring seven first-inning runs en route to a 9-4 victory.
It was the first time a team had eight straight hits to begin a game in 19 years, since the New York Yankees did it against Baltimore on Sept. 25, 1990.
“I’ve never really seen anything like that, but it happened,” Pirates manager John Russell said. “It was just one of those things where we couldn’t stop it. You can’t explain it. It was just bad luck or good hitting, I don’t know what it is.”
Chicago will send Carlos Zambrano(notes) (7-6, 3.80 ERA) to the hill in Wednesday’s finale, as the three-time All-Star again seeks his first win since July 22. He’s 0-2 with a 5.32 ERA in five starts since, and has also missed three weeks with back spasms.
Zambrano’s latest start was encouraging even though he didn’t earn a decision. The right-hander gave up one run and three hits while striking out seven over six innings Friday in a 6-2 loss to the New York Mets.
Chicago has scored two total runs while Zambrano has been in the game in his last three starts.
“Sometimes we pitch good and we can’t hit, and other days we hit good and the pitching is down,” Zambrano told the Cubs’ official Web site. “It’s a pity. We’ve been down through this year, but what can I say?”
Chicago has won six of Zambrano’s last seven outings against the Pirates dating to Sept. 8, 2007, and he’s 3-0 with a 3.49 ERA in those games. Zambrano is 6-1 with a 3.97 ERA in 12 career starts at PNC Park.
Pittsburgh has lost 11 of 12 overall and eight of 10 to the Cubs, including the last five meetings. The Pirates scored 10 runs in their first game of the season at Chicago, but have totaled 17 in their last nine.
Given that lack of offense, Pittsburgh will likely need a solid pitching performance from Kevin Hart(notes) (4-5, 4.67) to have a chance Wednesday. The Cubs dealt Hart to the Pirates on July 30 for relievers John Grabow(notes) and Tom Gorzelanny(notes), and the right-hander is 1-4 with a 6.35 ERA in six starts with Pittsburgh.
Hart gave up seven runs - five earned - over 5 2-3 innings Friday in a 14-7 loss to St. Louis. This will be his first time facing the Cubs.