Mon Sep 23 11:19am ET
The Pittsburgh Pirates are having a say in the National League Central race despite being mired in a rugged stretch.
The Chicago Cubs are the next team to find that out.
The Cubs (82-74), who open a three-series against the last-place Pirates (65-91) Tuesday at PNC Park, took a big hit to their playoff hopes over the weekend. They were swept by St. Louis in a four-game series to fall four games out of the wild-card chase.
Pittsburgh, though, is reeling, and a three-game sweep might give the Cubs a little life with less than a week left in the season.
The Pirates were swept in three games over the weekend by the Milwaukee Brewers, who used the wins to put some distance between them and the Cubs.
"It's tough sledding, but we've got to win," Chicago first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "One game at a time and see what happens. That's all we can do."
Overall, Chicago has lost five in a row.
The Cubs also are awaiting word on Kris Bryant, who injured his right ankle Sunday. The club said Bryant's ankle is not broken. He was to be further evaluated on the off day Monday.
Each of the setbacks during Chicago's losing streak have been decided by one run.
"If you just play back the tape, it's almost unbelievable that it turned out this way," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.
Pittsburgh has lost nine straight, tying a season high. During that stretch, the Pirates have been outscored 87-26 and have surrendered 24 homers while hitting one.
Several regulars are out of the lineup because of injuries, and now that they have clinched last place in the division, the final six games of the season have left the club "deep into the assessment, evaluation" mode, general manager Neal Huntington said.
"While (being a contending team) feels very far away, we do have some components that we believe in. We have some players that we believe in," Huntington said. "We also know there's a lot of areas that we as a group need to get better."
The players promise they are not giving up on the final six games.
"We're fighting for each other in this clubhouse," said starter Trevor Williams, who took the loss Sunday at Milwaukee. "We're fighting for each other to finish strong at the end of the year."
Chicago right-hander Kyle Hendricks (11-9, 3.37 ERA) is scheduled to face Pittsburgh righty Mitch Keller (1-5, 7.74 ERA) in the series opener.
Hendricks owns a 2-0 mark with a 2.74 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 23 innings over four starts in September.
Against the Pirates, Hendricks is 5-6 with a 2.98 ERA in 16 career starts. He has a 2.25 ERA in three starts against Pittsburgh this year.
For Keller, a rookie projected as the Pirates' top prospect, this will be his 11th and expected final start of the season.
Keller is 0-4 over his past six starts after getting his first major league win Aug. 12 against the Los Angeles Angels. Last Tuesday, he gave up two runs and six hits in five innings in a 6-0 loss against Seattle.
Keller has faced the Cubs once, Aug. 18 in the Little League Classic in Williamsport, Pa. He gave up two homers, six runs and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings in a 7-1 loss.
-- Field Level Media
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