Major League Baseball

Cubs, Pirates set for key four-game set

mlb2CUBS (45-39) AT PIRATES (39-43)

The Pittsburgh Pirates and the visiting Chicago Cubs are coming off losses — game and series — going into their four-game series that starts Monday at PNC Park.

The Cubs lost the deciding game of a series at Cincinnati 8-6 on Sunday, dropping them into a tie with Milwaukee for first place in the tight National League Central. Chicago has lost five consecutive road series.

The Pirates assisted the Brewers in that ascension, losing the deciding game of their series 2-1 Sunday at Milwaukee.

Pittsburgh, which is opening a seven-game homestand before the All-Star break, has won three of five, seven of 10 and nine of 14 since losing seven straight. The Pirates had won three series and split one going into the weekend at Milwaukee.

The teams will have a combined four newly minted All-Stars in the series, after rosters were announced Sunday. They are Chicago catcher Willson Contreras and shortstop Javier Baez as starters, Chicago third baseman Kris Bryant as a reserve, and Pittsburgh first baseman Josh Bell as a reserve.

The Pirates thought closer Felipe Vazquez also should have made the National League team, but manager Clint Hurdle said he told the pitcher to keep his bags packed in case there is a roster opening before the festivities next week.

Bell confirmed he has accepted an invitation to participate in the Home Run Derby, but his focus isn’t slipping into the future.

“(Monday) first. We’ve got to get after the Cubs,” Bell said.

Chicago right-hander Adbert Alzolay (1-0, 2.08 ERA) is scheduled to face Pittsburgh righty Trevor Williams (2-2, 4.25 ERA) on Monday.

Williams hasn’t quite regained his form since coming off the injured list because of a right side strain, but he was a lot better in his start Tuesday than he was in the first one upon his return. He has given up 11 runs in those two games, most recently four runs and eight hits in 6 2/3 innings in a 5-1 loss at Houston.

“I’m thankful I’m healthy and that my body feels great,” Williams said. “I’m thankful Clint (Hurdle) let me go out for the seventh (Tuesday). For me to go out for the seventh and get to 100 pitches, to do that is only going to help me next start.”

He is 2-4 with a 3.68 ERA in eight career appearances, including six starts, against the Cubs.

Alzolay will be making his third big league appearance, and his second start. He is the third major league pitcher, and the first Cubs pitcher since 1920 to pitch at least four innings and allow one or fewer hits in each of his first two appearances.

In his first career start on Tuesday, he gave up one hit, a leadoff homer, in 4 2/3 innings against Atlanta, with four strikeouts and four walks. He kept his composure after the homer.

“It’s just one pitch,” Alzolay said. “The game continues. If you lose your mind in that situation, then you’re not going to last a lot of innings in the game.”

He retired 12 of the next 13 batters but came out after a three-walk fifth inning, after 87 pitches.

“He did well. He just ran out of gas,” Chicago manager Joe Maddon said. “You can see how good he’s going to be.”

–Field Level Media

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