The Chicago Cubs opted against dealing coveted prospects to acquire one of the top-line starting pitchers on the market at last week's trade deadline. They didn't stay quiet, however, as they still managed to make a trade to improve the back end of their rotation for a playoff push.
Veteran Dan Haren will make his Cubs debut Wednesday night as Chicago looks to win seven in a row for the first time in four years by again knocking around the Pittsburgh Pirates' Jeff Locke in the finale of this rain-shortened two-game series at PNC Park.
While the Cubs' top four starters of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks have combined for a 3.11 ERA, the team has lacked stability from the No. 5 spot with five pitchers taking turns to combine for a 5.05 ERA. Chicago (58-47) believes it has found a reliable option at the back end with Friday's acquisition of Haren from Miami for two minor leaguers.
The 34-year-old Haren (7-7, 3.42 ERA), now on his fifth team in four seasons, led the Marlins in starts and has his lowest ERA since 2011. He ranks 10th in the NL in WHIP (1.09) and went six innings and gave up one run in three of his final five starts for Miami.
"He can pitch, that's the main thing," catcher Miguel Montero, who played with Haren in Arizona, told MLB's official website. "He knows he doesn't have the stuff that he used to, so to survive, he has to pitch, and he does pitch."
The right-hander has been susceptible to the long ball, though, allowing 1.47 homers per nine innings for the league's fourth-worst mark. His fielding-independent pitching rate of 4.59 is also the NL's fifth-worst.
This will be his first start against the Pirates since last July and he's gone 0-3 with a 7.15 ERA in his last four against them.
The Cubs won 5-0 on Tuesday to pull three back of wild card-leading Pittsburgh (61-44) and maintain a half-game lead over San Francisco for the second spot. The Pirates, who lost for just the third time in 14 home games, remained 5 1/2 games behind NL Central-leading St. Louis.
Anthony Rizzo stayed hot by matching a career high with four hits and Starlin Castro had a pair of run-scoring doubles. Rizzo is batting .500 with seven extra-base hits during Chicago's six-game winning streak.
''It's been fun to see how this has developed over the last few years to the point where now we're in contention and playing important games," he said.
Rizzo appears primed for another big game as the Cubs face Locke (6-6, 4.21) looking to push their winning streak to seven for the first time since July 31-Aug. 6, 2011.
Locke is 0-1 with a 10.22 ERA in three starts against Chicago this season - allowing 21 hits and nine walks over 12 1-3 innings - and has a 3.48 ERA against everyone else. Not surprisingly, he been hit hard by nearly every Cubs regular. Castro is 4 for 6 in this season's matchups, Rizzo is 3 for 8 with a homer and double and Dexter Fowler is 4 for 5.
Another sign of trouble is Locke hasn't been pitching well lately. The left-hander is 1-1 with a 5.19 ERA in three starts since the All-Star break after going 2-2 with a 1.59 ERA in his previous six.
Starling Marte had two hits of Pittsburgh's four hits Tuesday and is batting .377 in the last 13 games. He is hitting .389 in 11 games against the Cubs this season with the Pirates losing seven.