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Cubs look to feast on Pirates yet again

Mon Sep 27 10:09pm ET

The Chicago Cubs haven't had much reason to smile this season, although more than a few of their rare grins have come at the expense of Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Cubs (67-89) aim to torment the cellar-dwelling Pirates (58-98) a bit more Tuesday when they open a three-game series in Pittsburgh. Chicago has won seven in a row against its National League Central rivals and 12 of the 16 meetings thus far this season.

The smiles end there for the Cubs, who have lost six straight and 13 of their last 15 games overall.

"Fans have come to expect a contending team for the last seven years," Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. "In a good way we've raised those expectations, and I understand that's what fans want to see, so obviously my goal this offseason is to put a roster together that fills this place."

Chicago recently took its lumps during a four-game sweep by the hottest team in baseball. The Cubs saw a late one-run lead go by the boards in a 4-2 setback to the St. Louis Cardinals, who have won 16 straight games, on Sunday.

"It's always tough, the end of the season, at home when you're not (going to the playoffs)," Cubs manager David Ross said. "To have a last game here at home and not being able to come back here for a long time, yeah, it (stinks)."

Chicago's Alec Mills (6-7, 4.83 ERA) will get the nod Tuesday opposite fellow right-hander Mitch Keller (5-11, 5.96).

Mills, 29, saw his ERA for the month balloon to 7.08 after allowing seven runs (six earned) on six hits in four innings of a 9-5 loss to the Minnesota Twins last Tuesday.

"Any time we score five runs, we need to win that game." Mills said. "That one's on me. I think they still put some good swings on some decent pitches, but at the same time I've got to be better than that."

Mills is 0-2 with one save and a 6.14 ERA in eight career appearances (three starts) versus the Pirates. Colin Moran (5-for-9, homer), Bryan Reynolds (4-for-8, two homers, four RBIs) and Cole Tucker (3-for-7) have fared well in small sample sizes versus Mills.

Keller, 25, improved to 2-1 in his last six outings after permitting two runs in 5 2/3 innings of a 6-2 win at Cincinnati last Tuesday. Keller is 2-4 with a 4.86 ERA in nine starts since returning from Triple-A Indianapolis at the beginning of August.

"I think that's some of the growth that we've seen out of Mitch, where that inning before (his demotion) got out of control and he got out of the game," Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said. "He continued to execute pitches, he minimized the damage and he gave us a chance to win the game."

Keller is 1-3 with a 4.50 ERA in six career starts versus the Cubs. Ian Happ (6-for-11, two homers) has performed well against Keller, however the hurler has flustered Willson Contreras (1-for-8, six strikeouts).

Like Chicago, Pittsburgh hasn't spent much time grinning from ear to ear this season.

The Pirates sustained their fourth loss in five outings in humiliating fashion, courtesy of a 13-1 drubbing by the Reds on Monday afternoon. Pittsburgh has surrendered 36 runs during that stretch.

--Field Level Media

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