|Cubs look to extend Pirates' losing streak|
The Chicago Cubs have a chance to move further into uncharted territory this season and push the Pittsburgh Pirates further from the possibility for a playoff berth Friday as the teams continue a four-game series at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
The Cubs, in first place in the National League Central, slipped past Pittsburgh 1-0 in the series opener Thursday to improve to a season-high 20 games over .500 at 70-50.
Pittsburgh lost its fourth straight to fall back to .500 (61-61) and to 10 games behind the Cubs in the division.
It was the Pirates' first of 16 games in a row against teams ahead of them in the playoff chase, while for Chicago it started a stretch of 17 of 24 games on the road.
The Pirates were forced to do some roster shuffling Thursday, placing shortstop Jordy Mercer (left calf strain) on the 10-day disabled list, selecting the contract of infielder Kevin Newman from Triple-A Indianapolis, recalling outfielder Jordan Luplow from Indianapolis, sending catcher Jacob Stallings back to Indianapolis and designating right-hander Casey Sadler for assignment so Newman could be added to the 40-man roster.
Newman made his major league debut as a defensive substitute for Adeiny Hechavarria at shortstop in the eighth on Thursday. It's possible he will get his first start as soon as Friday. He was Pittsburgh's first-round draft pick in 2015 and is considered a candidate to become the club's long-term shortstop.
"It's a dream come true," Newman said. "This is what every baseball player strives for and wants to get to. To be here and be in this clubhouse with these guys, it's really exciting."
The pitching matchup Friday features Chicago left-hander Cole Hamels (7-9, 4.22 ERA) against Pittsburgh right-hander Trevor Williams (10-8, 3.66).
Williams has been on a hot streak, allowing just two runs in 29 innings over his past five starts. That includes seven scoreless innings with five hits, all singles, Saturday in a 4-0 win at San Francisco.
He has been the starter for seven of the Pirates' 13 shutout wins, four of them during his five-game hot streak.
"It's a confidence thing," Williams said. "Every time you go out there, you have to trick yourself into thinking you're the best pitcher on the planet that day."
It's a turnaround from earlier this season. In nine outings before this five-start stretch, he allowed 37 runs in 41 innings.
"When he can get (his fastball) down there and live on the knees, there's some downhill angle to it as well," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "That's what's been impressive."
Against the Cubs, Williams is 2-2 with a 4.01 ERA in six career appearances, four of them starts. In his only start against Chicago this season, Williams gave up one run and four hits in six innings and picked up the win in a 6-1 Pittsburgh victory on April 12.
Hamels will be making his fourth start since coming over to the Cubs from Texas. He won his first two, and Sunday, in his home debut with Chicago, he struck out nine in seven innings, gave up one run and retired the final 18 batters he faced in what became a walk-off 4-3 win against Washington.
"Pretty much had it all going on," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Hamels.
Hamels said he is feeding off his new situation.
"Anytime you get placed into a pennant race, you start to discover a little bit more that's in the tank," he said.
In his Cubs debut, Hamels struck out nine and gave up one unearned run in five innings in a 9-2 win over Pittsburgh on Aug. 1. In his career, he is 4-3 with a 2.72 ERA in 11 starts against the Pirates.