Pirates Pre-Game: Polanco and Ramirez Return Against the Cubs

CHICAGO — Gregory Polanco and Aramis Ramirez are back in the lineup for today’s series opener against the Cubs. Both players had been banged up a bit in the last series against the Rockies. Polanco (knee) was hurt on Wednesday after a clunky slide into second base on a double. Ramirez pulled his groin stretching a double into a triple in Tuesday’s game.

Prior to today’s game, Clint Hurdle said that Polanco seemed to be good, and that they wanted to get both players running on the field a bit before deciding on the lineup. It appears everything went well, as both are in the game today. Polanco appeared to be hobbling a bit during his warmups. With this being a big series, it makes sense that he’s in the lineup if he’s healthy enough to play, even if “healthy enough” isn’t at 100%.

Here are the lineups:

A New Cubs Team

Hurdle was asked about the Cubs and the success they’ve had this year. He mentioned that it was a work in progress last year, and that this has been something going on for them since the new front office came over. Theo Epstein had focus and direction at that point, and it has started to come together for them in a big way.

“There comes a point in time when things make more sense,” Hurdle said about the process of focus and direction starting to pay off. “They have more rhythm and rhyme. They’ve been able to cultivate a very fertile and solid foundation of young players that have skills. They’ve also created a pitching staff that’s got experience, and went about that a couple of different ways. They have a good team. There’s no doubt. It’s the most competitive team I’ve seen from them in quite some time. I look back in the day when they actually had good teams as well. This is an exciting team.”

With the way things are shaping up, this three-team race for the NL Central looks to be an annual event, as the Pirates and Cubs are both young teams who look to be contenders every year, while the Cardinals don’t look to be going anywhere for the time being.

Reactions From the Rockies Series

The Pirates were pretty much guaranteed to clinch the playoffs, but it all became official in Denver on Wednesday. The team acted like they’ve been there before, downplaying the celebration after they clinched. They returned the next day to come from behind and beat the Rockies to finish off a four game sweep.

“I thought they were very professional with their celebration,” Hurdle said. “I thought we showed up the next day prepared to win a ballgame. We had a couple people dinged up that were out of the lineup…Everybody that was asked to do something was able to do it.”

The bullpen had a big workload in the series, and played a big role in the sweep. Hurdle said that covering all of the innings they covered was “no big deal”, noting the expanded rosters gave them plenty to options to cover innings while keeping everyone fresh.

“One of my things at least on my to-do list was making sure we didn’t whip the bullpen before we came into this weekend series, and we did not at all,” Hurdle said.

The Pirates’ bullpen has been strong this month, ranking first in the majors in WAR (1.7), fourth in xFIP (3.44), first in FIP (2.79), and fifth in ERA (3.00). They also rank first in shutdowns (35), have the third fewest meltdowns (8), and first in WPA (2.75).

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Love the new meltdown stat. I’ve had a few of those myself watching them play the Brewers and Reds.

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