Cubs-Pirates Preview


Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen and Chicago's Anthony Rizzo have been two of baseball's hottest hitters over the past week and a half.

While McCutchen is the face of the Pirates franchise and Rizzo is a cornerstone of the Cubs' future, the difference-maker Wednesday night could be a Chicago pitcher who may not be with the team past the trade deadline.

After losing in Gregory Polanco's highly anticipated debut, the Pirates try to bounce back against Jason Hammel, who takes the ball carrying a 14-inning scoreless streak.

Pittsburgh (30-34) called up Polanco from Triple-A Indianapolis after the 22-year-old outfielder was leading the International League with a .347 average and 49 RBIs. He hit second in the batting order Tuesday, singled in his second at-bat and finished 1 for 5.

"It felt very good," Polanco told the Pirates' official website. "Now I have that one, and can just play the game."

Polanco scored on McCutchen's ninth homer of the season. The reigning NL MVP is batting .389 with five home runs, six doubles and 10 RBIs in nine games this month.

Rizzo has been just as hot, hitting .389 with five homers and 12 RBIs in his last 10 games with the Cubs (26-36) winning seven times. He homered, doubled twice and drove in three runs to lead Chicago to a 7-3 win Tuesday, and is batting .464 with two home runs and seven RBIs during a seven-game hitting streak against the Pirates.

"You can talk about mechanics and scouting reports and everything else, but the biggest thing in this game is confidence," Rizzo said.

Hammel (6-3, 2.53 ERA) is pitching with confidence, quietly putting together an All-Star worthy season, ranking second in the majors in both WHIP (0.88) and opponent batting average (.191). The right-hander has made eight straight starts without surrendering a home run and has become an attractive trade target.

"Obviously, very confident in my stuff right now, trusting it and having a good game plan," Hammel told the Cubs' official website after striking out eight over seven shutout innings for a second straight start in Friday's 5-3, 13-inning win over Miami.

Hammel won his first two starts of the season against the Pirates, and he's 4-0 with a 2.70 ERA in his last four against them. He allowed a run in 6 2-3 innings in a 3-2 win at Pittsburgh on April 3, then permitted three hits - solo homers to Travis Snider, Pedro Alvarez and Russell Martin - over seven innings in a 7-5 victory six days later.

Alvarez's only two hits in 11 career at-bats against Hammel have been homers, while McCutchen is 3 for 15 against him with a home run.

The Pirates have lost three of four and have some concerns in their starting rotation after Francisco Liriano left in the fourth inning Tuesday due to discomfort in his left side.

Pittsburgh turns to Brandon Cumpton (1-2, 6.51), who got his first win of the season Friday when he yielded three runs in 5 1-3 innings of an 15-5 victory over Milwaukee. That came six days after he was knocked around for 11 runs - the most by any pitcher this season - in 3 2-3 innings by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Although he did a good job of keeping the Brewers off the scoreboard, he allowed eight hits with six coming in his final 2 1-3 innings. He's limiting opponents to a .211 average the first time through the order, but batters are hitting .387 off him after that.

This will be the rookie right-hander's first appearance against the Cubs.