The Chicago Cubs are off to a rough start this season, but Willson Contreras remains a consistent bright spot.
Contreras and the Cubs will look to extend their season-high winning streak to four games when they play the middle contest of a three-game home set against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night.
Chicago ranks in the bottom half of the majors in runs (139) and slugging percentage (.366) after losing 20 of its first 34 contests. However, Contreras, a veteran catcher who has benefited from the NL's inclusion of the designated hitter, is batting .283 and slugging .509 with five homers and 14 RBIs.
He is 13-for-31 (.419) with three home runs and seven RBIs over his past nine games.
"The main thing for me that I've seen with Willson is just a steady attitude this year," Cubs manager David Ross said.
Contreras' 100th career homer, a grand slam that highlighted an eight-run first inning Monday night, helped Chicago rout the Pirates 9-0. The result gave the Cubs their first three-game winning streak of the season and snapped their six-game home skid.
"Willson has been a big part of our success for a little bit here," Ross said. "He's been a part of a lot of winning here because he's a special player."
Contreras also has fared well against the Pirates this year, batting .357 (10-for-28) with two homers, three doubles and eight RBIs in seven games. He is a .300 career hitter vs. Pittsburgh's scheduled Tuesday starter, JT Brubaker.
After the Cubs rocked Dillon Peters for five runs in two-thirds of an inning on Monday, Brubaker (0-3, 5.34 ERA) will try for an eighth time to record his first win of 2022. The right-hander has not completed more than five innings in any outing.
However, Brubaker allowed two or fewer earned runs in four of his last five starts after yielding eight over the first two. He gave up two runs, four hits and two walks while striking out three in five innings during a 4-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday.
Brubaker is 2-1 with a 2.77 ERA in six career outings (five starts) against the Cubs. He allowed two runs, one earned, while walking two and striking out four in three innings during Pittsburgh's 4-3 win at Chicago on April 24.
Chicago's Ian Happ, who had three hits and an RBI on Monday, is a .308 lifetime hitter vs. Brubaker. Teammates Rafael Ortega and Frank Schwindel are a combined 5-for-8 against him.
While the Pirates, 4-3 vs. Chicago in 2022, will seek a strong effort from Brubaker, they must see some offensive improvement after totaling six runs while being shut out twice in the past five games. Amazingly, they won twice in that span -- including while getting no-hit by the Reds on Sunday.
Pittsburgh managed only three hits on Monday. Ke'Bryan Hayes is 0-for-11 in the past three games, and Bryan Reynolds 0-for-18 in the past five.
"When you have guys in the middle of the order (where) it's that drastic, then it really stands out," Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said.
Reynolds, though, is 2-for-3 against Chicago's Keegan Thompson (2-0, 1.67 ERA), who is slated to make a second consecutive start on Tuesday. One of the Cubs' top relievers through early May, the right-hander made his first 2022 start on Wednesday at San Diego, where he allowed two runs and five hits over four innings.
Thompson threw four scoreless innings against the Pirates on April 22. He is 1-0 with a 2.61 ERA in four career appearances (one start) vs. Pittsburgh.
--Field Level Media