MLB

Cubs-Pirates Preview

The Chicago Cubs' early success has been keyed by some dominance within the NL Central.

As Jon Lester looks to help continue that trend and his own strong start, the Cubs can sweep this three-game series with a seventh consecutive road win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday.

Jake Arrieta improved to 6-0 with seven scoreless innings and Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo combined for five hits as Chicago (19-6) rolled to a second straight decisive victory over Pittsburgh, 7-1 on Tuesday.

''We had some good at-bats right out of the shoot,'' said manager Joe Maddon, whose team won 7-2 on Monday. ''We did some good things early. We put them a bit on their heels and that's always important."

The Cubs have averaged 6.8 runs while going 12-2 against the Central, and they own a 34-8 run advantage during a five-game division winning streak.

Chicago has opened a five-game lead over the second-place Pirates (15-12), who have dropped three in a row after winning six straight. Including last season's wild-card game, the Cubs have outscored Pittsburgh 18-3 in the last three at PNC Park.

Rizzo, who doubled twice in each game of this set, is batting .333 with 15 RBIs in the last 11 games after hitting .163 in the first 14. He's batting .426 with eight doubles and eight RBIs in 12 regular-season games at Pittsburgh since the beginning of last season.

Lester (2-1, 1.83 ERA) has opened with five straight quality starts for the first time in his stellar career. He's allowed one run in four of those outings, including each of the last three.

Those three runs all came on homers, most recently Friday over seven innings while receiving a no-decision in the 6-1 victory over Atlanta.

Like his teammates, Lester is trying to keep theirs - and his own - success in perspective.

"You play today, you win, you enjoy it, you lose, you move on and show up tomorrow and the slate's clean," he told MLB's official website.

The left-hander went 2-1 with a 1.57 ERA against the Pirates last season. It was highlighted Sept. 15, when he allowed a run, five hits and struck out nine for a complete-game 2-1 victory at PNC Park.

Andrew McCutchen is 1 for 13 against Lester and 2 for 19 with six strikeouts in the last five games.

There's a good chance Juan Nicasio (3-2, 3.33) will keep things close considering he has a 1.89 ERA with 21 strikeouts over 19 innings while winning his three home starts. The right-hander's best outing anywhere on the young season came there Friday, when he allowed three hits and fanned eight in seven scoreless innings of a 4-1 victory over Cincinnati.

"He's a strong man. He's built for endurance," manager Clint Hurdle said.

Nicasio made three relief appearances against the Cubs for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season, but hasn't faced them as a starter since 2013 with Colorado.

Rizzo is 0 for 7 with two walks against Nicasio, while Jason Heyward is 6 for 16 with two doubles. However, Heyward could miss a third straight contest with a wrist injury.

"I don't think it's a long-term kind of thing by any means, but his wrist is sore," Maddon said.

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