Cubs-Pirates Preview

Although the club's latest comeback attempt fell short, the Chicago Cubs' dangerous new-look lineup isn't making things easy on opposing pitching staffs all the way until the final out.

Chicago, however, could be missing a key piece if its speedy leadoff man can't play in the series finale at PNC Park.

With Dexter Fowler's status uncertain, the Cubs will try to bounce back by taking three of four in this series Thursday when Jeff Locke goes after his third straight win for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Chicago (8-6) has two wins when trailing entering the ninth inning this season after going 0-79 a year ago. After scoring three in the ninth in Tuesday's 9-8 victory, the Cubs nearly pulled off another late rally.

Trailing 4-1 in the eighth inning Wednesday, they scored twice after loading the bases with nobody out but failed to take the lead as Pittsburgh reliever Tony Watson got the final two outs.

Anthony Rizzo singled in the ninth inning before Watson fanned Kris Bryant to end Chicago's four-game road win streak.

''They got us,'' manager Joe Maddon said. ''We just couldn't get a hit when we needed to. If we keep playing with that kind of intensity and effort on a nightly basis we're going to win a lot of games this year.''

Bryant doubled for the fourth straight contest and reached base two more times. The third baseman is 9 for 18 with six RBIs and a .640 on-base percentage since going 0 for 4 in his debut against San Diego last Friday.

The Cubs, though, could be minus Fowler after he left Wednesday's game due to tightness in his right groin. The center fielder has scored 10 runs and stolen four bases over his last 11 games.

Pittsburgh (7-8) will try to build a safer cushion as it looks to wrap up a 6-4 homestand.

After allowing two runs over six innings in a 6-2 win at Milwaukee on April 10, Locke again baffled the Brewers on Saturday when the left-hander surrendered one run and four hits with six strikeouts over eight innings in a 6-2 home victory.

"You've just got to attack guys. Keep the ball down," Locke, who retired 23 of his last 25 batters, told MLB's official website.

Locke (2-0, 1.93 ERA) has pitched particularly well at PNC Park, going 5-2 with a 2.77 ERA in his last 11 starts while Pittsburgh has won nine of those games. He's 1-1 with a 2.95 mark in three home outings versus Chicago.

After allowing five runs over 4 1-3 innings in a 6-5 win at Colorado on April 12, Kyle Hendricks (0-0, 6.10) worked five scoreless innings after giving up a first-inning two-run home run in Saturday's 7-6 home win over San Diego.

The right-hander has gone 7-2 with a 2.88 ERA in 15 career starts, but he'll get his first look at the Pirates.

Gregory Polanco, who hit his first home run Wednesday, is 8 for 21 over his past six games. Andrew McCutchen and Josh Harrison have yet to get on track in this series, going 3 for 24 with seven strikeouts.

Jordy Mercer will likely be a game-time decision after missing three games with a bruised chest, while Starling Marte's status is uncertain after he was hit by a pitch on his right hand Wednesday.

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