Go inside the numbers and matchups that will decide Monday night’s showdown between the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET), and then vote on which team will win.
Inside the pitching matchup
When Brett Anderson is on the mound: Anderson is in his first season with the Cubs, and he has always been an effective southpaw when healthy. But in his eight prior seasons in the big leagues, he has made more than 19 starts just twice. One of those seasons was 2015 with the Dodgers, when he made 31 starts with a 3.69 ERA, but he had back surgery in 2016 and his ERA was higher than his innings pitched total.
When he’s on, Anderson hits the bottom of the zone with his sinker and goes to the outside corner to right-handed batters, looking to induce ground balls. You’ll rarely see him challenge right-handers inside. He throws his changeup, curveball and slider all between 10 and 20 percent of the time. There’s nothing fancy here: He’s a guy with a 90 mph fastball who relies on location. — David Schoenfield
When Chad Kuhl is on the mound: Kuhl had a bit of a surprise breakout season for the Pirates in 2016. He was rushed to the big leagues due to injuries in the rotation and posted a 4.20 ERA in 14 starts. There isn’t a high ceiling here even though he has averaged 93.7 mph on his fastball, as he’s had pedestrian strikeout rates throughout his career. He’s almost exclusively a fastball/slider guy, mixing in an occasional changeup to lefties. He needs to continue developing that pitch, as lefties are hitting .299 and slugging .510 off him in his major league career.
Kuhl is always kind of interesting: While he throws a lot of two-seamers, he also pitches up in the zone often enough, so he doesn’t have a high ground ball rate. It’s just 31 percent through his first three starts, but he has survived without allowing a home run. Note that unlike teammate Tyler Glasnow, who certainly has more upside, Kuhl has kept his walks to a minimum, so he won’t usually beat himself. — Schoenfield
Player in the spotlight
Andrew McCutchen. If ever the Pirates needed McCutchen to revert to his former elite status, now is the time. With young star Starling Marte suspended 80 games for violating baseball’s PED policy, McCutchen has been shifted back to his old environs of center field, where his minus-28 defensive runs saved last year was by far the worst total in baseball — for any position. This time around, the Pirates have McCutchen playing deeper, so we’ll see if that helps. Pittsburgh also needs McCutchen to maintain his recent uptick at the plate, not only to help fill Marte’s void, but to buy more time for top prospect Austin Meadows to finish off his development at Triple-A, where his big league service-time clock remains at zero. — Bradford Doolittle
Something to watch Monday night
Can Kris Bryant handle Kuhl’s fastball? If that seems like a silly question, well, it is a silly question. Still, Bryant is off to a league-average start, largely because of a .235 wOBA, .214 BABIP and .105 well-hit average against fastballs so far this season. Last season’s matching figures against the hard stuff: .469 wOBA, .341 BABIP, .226 well-hit average. So yeah, it seems only a matter of time before the defending NL MVP goes off, and when he does, he tends to burn for a while. Kuhl, who can rev both his fastball and sinker up to the 96-97 mph range, will be a good test. — Doolittle
Bryant’s 1.087 OPS against the Pirates is his best against any NL team and the second-best among active players to Albert Pujols’ 1.121. — Mark Simon, ESPN Stats & Info
Did you know …
Chad Kuhl is 6-5 in his career, but he’s 2-0 against pitchers that once won a Cy Young. He won his major league debut against Clayton Kershaw on Sunday Night Baseball last season, and his most recent win came against the Braves and R.A. Dickey. — Simon
What will decide the game
This one will probably come down to how well the Cubs handle Kuhl’s slider, and it’s anyone’s guess how that will go. Cubs hitters had the second-best performance versus sliders last season, per FanGraphs’ measures, but that has dropped to 26th this season. Of the Cubs who had a plate appearance ending with a Kuhl slider, eight ended with an out and six ended with a Cub reaching base. He fared much better against everyone else (52 outs, 9 baserunners) — Simon
Where the teams stand
The Cubs are flying high after a number of dramatic comebacks in the past week: down 5-0 to the Brewers on Tuesday before winning 9-7; scoring four runs in the bottom of the ninth, including Addison Russell’s walk-off homer, to win 7-4 on Wednesday; and then scoring three runs in the ninth on Friday to tie the Reds before winning in 11 innings. The Pirates, meanwhile, are still reeling from the Starling Marte suspension. — Schoenfield
Who will win?
The Pirates’ defense has looked shaky since the Marte suspension and the offense has done nothing against southpaws, while the Cubs’ offense appears to be on a roll. I’ll go out on a limb and take the champs. — Doolittle
The Pirates may have the slight advantage on the bump, but Kuhl’s struggles against lefties bodes well for Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward. The Cubs’ offense seems to be clicking right now. — Schoenfield