The Chicago Cubs will try to push their winning streak to four games when they host the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday afternoon in the second installment of a four-game series.
Chicago is coming off a 6-5 win in 11 innings on Thursday night. The game featured an unexpected ending as Pirates second baseman Wilmer Difo failed to catch a high pop fly, allowing the winning run to cross home plate.
Ian Happ hit the infield fly and initially reacted with frustration. But he started running faster toward first base as he saw Difo struggle to follow the flight of the ball. Sergio Alcantara sprinted home from third as the ball dropped.
Happ celebrated with teammates after the victory but acknowledged Difo’s tough predicament.
“Wind can be tricky here,” Happ said. “High pop-ups like that, they can get a little crazy.”
The Cubs’ season has proved to be crazy, from a promising start to a steep slump and midseason selloff. The players who remain are looking for a strong finish to 2021, which could increase their odds for regular playing time in 2022.
One such player looking to solidify his future is right-hander Alec Mills (6-6, 4.32 ERA), who is scheduled to make his 15th start of the season. Mills is coming off his best start of the year in which he pitched 8 1/3 scoreless innings in a win over the Chicago White Sox. He scattered four hits, walked two and struck out three.
Cubs manager David Ross praised Mills’ ability to get outs despite throwing at lower velocities than most peers.
“Weak contact’s still a thing; you don’t have to miss barrels all the time,” Ross said. “He’s just been as consistent a guy as I’ve had since I’ve been here — the things we’ve asked him to do, ups and downs. That’s a really good lineup (with the White Sox) that he just ran through, pretty efficiently.”
The 29-year-old Mills is 0-2 with a 5.51 ERA in seven career games (two starts) against the Pirates.
Pittsburgh will turn to left-hander Steven Brault (0-3, 4.57), who will make his sixth start. He is hoping to bounce back from his worst start of the season Saturday, when he gave up seven runs on eight hits in three innings.
The 29-year-old Brault is seeking his first victory since Sept. 17, 2020. He is 0-2 with a 6.52 ERA in 16 career games (seven starts) against the Cubs.
One player who could help Brault’s cause is catcher Jacob Stallings, who has earned a reputation as one of the best defensive backstops in the game.
“You know where I stand on (the Gold Glove): He should win it,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “Statistically, it’s proven. By me promoting Stallings, that’s not me taking away from guys in (the National League). They are elite. If you are a catching nerd, you should come to the National League Central. We have some guys that can really do it. They are elite at it.”
–Field Level Media