Pirates look to spoil Cubs’ hopes

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The Pittsburgh Pirates are playing out the final five games of a forgettable season, but perhaps they can take out some frustration Wednesday on the Chicago Cubs in the second game of a series at PNC Park.

A Pittsburgh win — or a Milwaukee win at Cincinnati — will eliminate the Cubs from wild-card contention.

Chicago (82-75) has fallen apart this month and has a seven-game losing streak for the first time since September 2014. That includes a 9-2 loss Tuesday against the last-place National League Central rival Pirates (66-91), who had lost nine in a row.

“It’s stunning for sure,” Chicago starter Kyle Hendricks, who took the loss Tuesday, said of the team’s costly skid. “Obviously, it doesn’t feel good at all. Didn’t expect this to be happening. I don’t really know what to say. We weren’t prepared for this at all. It’s just unfortunate with this group (that) we couldn’t come together and get the job done.”

Pittsburgh is 32-44 at home, where it had lost five straight and seven of nine entering this series. The Pirates looked like a team that could be swept by a club such as the Cubs with an experienced playoff roster trying to keep its postseason hopes alive.

Instead, Chicago has been left to hold out whatever hope it can muster.

“The moment you quit or stop really trying, then at that point you know your outcome,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I only know how to do things one way.”

Every win — particularly in the waning days of the season, and against a club that entered the series with a flicker of hope for the playoffs — feels monumental for the Pirates.

“It’s big-time,” said Pittsburgh’s Kevin Kramer, who had a two-run double in a seven-run seventh inning Tuesday.

“It’s good all over,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of his team matching a season high with a seven-run inning. “The fight’s been there. The work’s been there. It’s not translating to success on the field, in the (batter’s) box.”

Chicago is playing without key regulars Kris Bryant (sprained ankle) and Javier Baez (thumb injury), but the Pirates are missing the likes of Josh Bell, Starling Marte and a few starting pitchers — and they haven’t had playoff hopes since around the All-Star break.

In a veteran vs. rookie matchup for the middle game of the series, Chicago left-hander Jon Lester (13-10, 4.51 ERA) is scheduled to start against Pittsburgh right-hander Dario Agrazal (4-5, 5.08 ERA).

Lester has pitched at least five innings in each of his past five starts, but does not have a quality start since July 22 (eight starts). Wednesday against Cincinnati, he got a no-decision after going five innings, giving up one run.

Against Pittsburgh, Lester is 12-6 with a 3.18 ERA in 22 career starts, 13 of them quality starts.

Chicago has won all four starts Lester has made against the Pirates this year, all at PNC Park. He is 3-0 with a 3.20 ERA in those starts.

Agrazal, 24, will be making his 14th major league start, 15th appearance. He is 4-5 with a 5.23 ERA in his 13 starts.

Last Wednesday, he gave up four runs and six hits in five innings, with five strikeouts and a walk, in a 4-1 loss against Seattle.

Agrazal has never faced the Cubs.

–Field Level Media

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