Pirates-Cubs Preview

A party atmosphere has been promised by manager Joe Maddon once the Chicago Cubs clinch a playoff spot, and they can do so Friday at Wrigley Field.

The postseason-bound Pittsburgh Pirates are looking to use this weekend to ensure they won't open the playoffs there.

The Cubs can clinch their first playoff berth since 2008 by ending the Pirates' six-game win streak to start this three-game set in a potential NL wild-card game preview.

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Chicago (89-63) will punch its postseason ticket with a victory, and Maddon has said there will be a huge celebration.

"The word party has taken on a negative connotation in our country these days," Maddon said. "It's really bumming me out. There's nothing wrong with having a good party. There's not a thing wrong with it."

The Cubs, winners of seven of nine, hold the NL's second wild card and are 3 1/2 games behind the Pirates in the race for home-field advantage in the one-game matchup.

Pittsburgh (93-60) still has faint Central title hopes, sitting four games behind St. Louis and with three against the Cardinals next week, but are in better position to host the wild-card game for the third straight year. They showed how serious they are taking this series by not using outfielder Gregory Polanco in Thursday's 5-4 win at Colorado and giving Aramis Ramirez a second straight day off.

Polanco has a knee problem and Ramirez a groin injury. Manager Clint Hurdle said he didn't want to use them extensively with four games in the altitude of Denver.

"This is not about rest at all," Hurdle told MLB's official website. "This is about injury prevention or maintenance of a physical area."

Starling Marte went 13 for 20 with seven RBIs in the series sweep. It's the most hits in a four-game set for a Pirates player since Pie Traynor had 13 in 1928.

"Thirteen hits in a four-game series? Very impressive," Hurdle said.

Marte is hitting a team-best .340 in the season series while the Cubs are led by Miguel Montero's .412 average with Anthony Rizzo at .400. Chicago has taken 10 of 16 from Pittsburgh.

The Pirates will start the pitcher who would likely start the wild-card game in Gerrit Cole (17-8, 2.64 ERA), who has posted the most victories by a Pittsburgh pitcher since John Smiley's 20-8 campaign in 1991.

The right-hander is 6-1 with a 3.10 ERA in eight career starts against Chicago, including 4-1 with a 3.00 ERA in five on the road. Rizzo is 5 for 14 in this matchup.

Cole is 8-1 with a 2.07 ERA in 11 day starts.

The Cubs will start left-hander Jon Lester (10-11, 3.46), who is 2-1 with a 1.64 ERA in three starts against the Pirates this year with 21 strikeouts in 22 innings. Ramirez is 5 for 11 against him while Andrew McCutchen is 1 for 10.

Lester fired a five-hitter at Pittsburgh for his only complete game of the season in a 2-1 win Sept. 15, hours after Cole allowed four runs in six innings in the opening game of a doubleheader.

Chicago slugger Kris Bryant is two RBIs shy of becoming the first rookie to reach 100 in the NL since Washington's Ryan Zimmerman had 110 in 2006. He has already set the franchise rookie record with 26 homers.