It's only been a week since the Pirates took three out of four from the Cubs by a combined score of 17-11, but this time around, the Cubs might have an advantage: they're home.
Chicago is 15-14 at Wrigley Field this season and 15-26 away from it. Although that trend hasn't held up in a small sample size against Pittsburgh, the Cubs will be happy to be home following a 10-game road trip, especially with the off-day on Thursday.
"Over the last two or three weeks, we've been playing pretty good baseball and bounced back," said Cubs manager Rick Renteria, whose team went .500 on its road trip with a 6-1 win over Miami on Wednesday. "We keep chipping away, keep battling. The relief corps has done a good job.
"We were able to put together a pretty good run at home [June 3-8]. We've been playing pretty good, but we haven't been able in some instances to close them out. I don't think it's anything I concern myself with, other than making sure we continue to fight and play the game."
Charged with keeping the Cubs in it Friday is right-hander Edwin Jackson (5.11 ERA, 1.50 WHIP), who has already faced the Pirates three times this season, more than he's seen any other team. He hasn't exactly fared well in those games, however, allowing 11 earned runs in 16 innings (6.19 ERA) along with a 1.75 WHIP and .300 opponents' batting average.
The most recent of those outings was two turns ago on June 9 in a 6-2 Pirates win. Jackson allowed four runs on seven hits and two walks in six innings. He also struck out eight. Andrew McCutchen, the owner of a .462 (12-for-26) lifetime average against Jackson, tagged him for a homer and RBI double.
"I just have to do a better job of executing pitches and keeping the ball down," Jackson said after the game. "[McCutchen is] strong enough to where even if he gets beat, he has enough power to still hit the ball opposite field to the short porch and hit it well."
Jackson's opponent is a familiar one: Charlie Morton. The righty has started for the Bucs all three times they faced Jackson, all Pittsburgh wins. Morton has pitched to a 2.84 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in those three contests, most recently seven innings of one-run ball on June 9.
His last time out, Morton limited the Marlins to two runs on five hits and three walks over seven innings Saturday.
"The curveball wasn't as sharp and tight as it was last time [vs. the Cubs]," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "But he was able to get the ball where he needed to in a lot of different situations to get away from big innings."
Pirates: McCutchen, Marte better since Polanco's debut
It's only been a little over a week since Pittsburgh mega-prospect Gregory Polanco debuted, but his impact is plain to see: a .378/.417/.467 slash line with five RBIs and one game-winning homer, while playing every inning for the Pirates.
To more fully measure his impact, however, it's worth noting what those around him have done in that week-plus. As a team, the Pirates have averaged 4.7 runs per game entering Friday, though they are 5-4 in that time. That is more than half a run better than their 4.1 average on the season.
Polanco's fellow outfielders, McCutchen and Starling Marte, have been better, too. Marte, who hits second behind leadoff man Polanco, has raised his average to .262 from .240 with a 16-for-42 (.381) stretch. McCutchen, meanwhile, is hitting .368 out of the three-hole during that stretch to raise his average to .317 from .309 before Polanco arrived.
Cubs: Renteria not publicly concerned with potential subtractions
This time of year can be an ambiguous one for teams struggling to compete -- like the 30-40 Cubs -- because the July 31 Trade Deadline is rapidly approaching and front offices often decide to sell pieces in an effort to build for the future.
The Cubs have been sellers the first two years of the Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer Era, and that could again be the case this summer. They traded names like Alfonso Soriano, Matt Garza, Carlos Marmol and Scott Feldman in July 2013, a year after parting with Paul Maholm, Ryan Dempster and Geovany Soto.
Renteria downplayed the significance of potential trades.
"All clubs go through that, whether through injury or whatever," Renteria said of losing players. "I can't concern myself with things I can't control, and obviously I can't foresee the future. I know when we come to the ballpark, these guys are going to give us a really good effort and give us a chance for a victory."
• This is the last Cubs homestand during which fans can cast in-stadium All-Star Game ballots. The last day for voting at Wrigley is June 26.
• The first 10,000 fans in attendance Friday will get an Ernie Banks bobblehead.
Tim Healey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.