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National League Preview from The Sports Network



Monday, March 31st (All times Eastern)

Chicago Cubs (0-0) at Pittsburgh Pirates (0-0), 1:05 p.m.

Probable Starting Pitchers: Chicago - Jeff Samardzija (0-0, 0.00) Pittsburgh - Francisco Liriano (0-0, 0.00)

(SportsNetwork.com) - The Pittsburgh Pirates ended a string of 20 straight losing seasons by posting 92 wins, capturing one of the two National League wild card spots and advancing to the Divisional playoff round a season ago.

Now they'll try to carry that success into this season, as the Pirates begin the 2014 campaign with the opener of a three-game set against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park.

If the two seasons prior to their first winning campaign since Barry Bonds was roaming the outfield are any indication, Pittsburgh is definitely on the upswing. In 2011, Pittsburgh finished with 72 wins, which was 15 better than the previous year, and the team pushed the .500 mark in 2012, ending with 79 wins.

The Pirates finished 94-68 a year ago and are now shooting for back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time since 1992-'93.

"(Last) spring, it was just the realization there was a lot of talent here, a lot of young talent, a lot of guys who didn't even know how good they were,'' Pirates catcher Russell Martin said. "As the season went along, you start getting good results, you start feeling better about yourself, then go out there and gain some confidence.

"You just reaffirm the belief that you are good. That's what happened. We showed glimpses early on, and then there was a point in the season where we showed up at the field and we expected to win.''

Bonds will actually be in attendance at PNC, as he will present Andrew McCutchen with the NL MVP award. Jim Leyland will also be there to give Clint Hurdle his NL Manager of the Year award.

McCutchen's numbers may have been down from 2012, but he captured the NL MVP award after batting .317 with 21 homers, 84 RBI, 97 runs scored and an OPS of .911. Those were all down from his 31HR/96RBI/107RS/.327BA/.953OPS numbers of 2012, proving that he doesn't need monster numbers to take this club far, he just needs a supporting cast.

That cast gets a little stronger this year with the emergence of Starling Marte as a legit leadoff hitter and a more consistent clean-up hitter in Pedro Alvarez. Marte stole 41 bases and had a .343 on-base percentage, while Alvarez led the NL with 36 homers and drove in 100 runs. Both players will have to continue to provide solid offense if Pittsburgh is going anywhere.

Getting the call for the Pirates on Monday will be left-hander Francisco Liriano, who rejuvenated his career last year and ranked third in the National League with a career-best 16 victories along with a 3.02 ERA in 26 starts.

The 30-year-old, who was named the NL's Comeback Player of the Year, also tallied 163 strikeouts in 161 innings of work, went 8-2 with a stellar 1.26 ERA following a Pittsburgh loss and was the winning pitcher in the Pirates' 6-2 triumph over Cincinnati in the NL Wild Card Game.

Chicago, meanwhile, finished in fifth place in the NL Central for the fourth straight season. Pitcher Matt Garza and outfielder Alfonso Soriano were jettisoned at the trade deadline and at the end of September, manager Dale Sveum was given his walking papers after just two years on the job.

While there is certainly plenty of blame to go around, his tenure did produce the worst two-year stretch in the organization's long history -- no small feat considering that history includes 105 years and counting without a World Series title.

In steps new manager Rick Renteria, whose reputation of working well with young players was a driving factor in the front office's hiring decision.

This season marks president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer's third year at the helm. The front office continues to embrace a long-term rebuilding model, and for good reason. As such, there were no big-money signings or splashy offseason moves. Instead, the Cubs' focus is on nurturing their young prospects for the future while also trying to sprinkle in some wins now despite an Opening Day payroll of around $87 million, the club's lowest figure since 2005.

Although the win-right-now part of that equation will be a pretty big challenge for this Cubs team bereft of talent, the front office remains steadfast in its approach to contend beyond 2014.

One of those players the Cubs hope to lock up long term will be on the hill Monday in right-hander Jeff Samardzija. He has declined their attempts, though, and was the subject of trade rumors most of the winter following a season that saw him go 8-13 with a 4.34 earned run average in 33 starts.

Samardzija's 2013 season started with him scattering two hits over eight scoreless innings in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh was 12-7 against the Cubs last season.

03/31 10:22:38 ET

  • ACC: Syracuse at NC State

    Saturday at 12:00 pm on WRAL-TV

  • SEC: Florida at Kentucky

    Saturday at 2:00 pm on WRAL-TV

  • Pac 12: Stanford at Arizona

    Saturday at 4:00 pm on WRAL-TV

  • Big Ten: Wisconsin at Minnesota

    Tonight at 7:00 on 99.9 The Fan

  • NBA: Dallas at Portland

    Tonight at 9:30 on 99.9 The Fan

  • NHL: Hurricanes vs. Minnesota

    Tomorrow at 8:00 pm on 99.9 The Fan

Scoreboard
Local
Final
BRK 91
CHA 115
Final
DUKE 94
WAKE 51
7:00pm Tonight
ECU
TEMPL
 
7:30pm Tonight
NCCU
NCAT
 
Final
LOS 4
CWS 6
 
Final
CLE 4
CIN 2
 
Final
TEX 2
KAN 13
 
Final
SFG 2
OAK 9
 
Final
SEA 4
SDP 3
 
Final
MIL 8
WMIL 0
 
Final
COL 3
ARI 6
 
Final
MIN 3
UMIN 1
 
1:05pm Today
DET
ATL
 
1:05pm Today
TAM
BAL
 
1:05pm Today
PIT
NYY
 
1:05pm Today
HOU
PHI
 
1:05pm Today
MIA
STL
 
3:05pm Today
SFG
CHC
 
3:05pm Today
CIN
CLE
 
3:05pm Today
CWS
LOS
 
3:05pm Today
ANA
MIL
 
3:05pm Today
CHC
OAK
 
3:05pm Today
SEA
SDP
 
3:05pm Today
KAN
TEX
 
3:10pm Today
ARI
COL
 
5:05pm Tonight
WAS
NYM
 
7:05pm Tonight
MIN
BOS
 
7:05pm Tonight
BAL
TOR
 
Final
IND 105
NYK 82
Final
ORL 100
PHO 105
Final
BRK 91
CHA 115
Final
TOR 112
CLE 120
Final
BOS 85
UTA 84
Final
MIN 85
DEN 100
Final
NOP 88
DET 85
 
Final
MIA 100
LAL 94
Final
HOU 100
MEM 102
Final
OKC 123
PHI 118
Final
SAN 112
SAC 85
Final
GSW 102
MIL 93
Final
LAC 93
POR 98
8:00pm Tonight
CHI
OKC
 
10:30pm Tonight
POR
DAL
 
Final
UNCA 80
LIB 70
 
Final
PSU 67
OSU 77
Final
USB 62
BING 57
 
Final
FORD 66
DUQ 81
Final
GMAS 51
GWU 67
Final
UNH 67
HART 63
 
Final
STJOE 55
LAS 50
Final
Terriers 79
LIU 70
 
Final
GTDNS 83
MAINE 66
 
Final
LOU 59
ND 71
Final
SHU 66
PROV 79
Final
BRY 91
SHU 85
 
Final
MORE 79
SEMIZ 74
Final
MNTER 58
RFLSH 73
 
Final
LSU 63
TENN 78
Final
SFLA 74
UCF 45
Final
VERM 66
UMBC 39
 
Final
RMU 91
WAGN 68
 
Final
UMASS 53
RICH 56
Final
TULA 63
HOU 68
Final
YALE 71
HOW 62
 
Final
PITT 63
MIAMI 67
Final
TXPA 48
NMST 69
 
Final
MSU 72
PURD 66
Final
STLU 48
BONA 64
Final
DUKE 94
WAKE 51
Final
TULSA 47
CIN 56
Final
VANDY 66
MSST 56
Final
OKST 82
TCU 70
Final
UCLA 85
USC 74
Final
WYO 76
UTST 53
Final
MARQ 51
STJ 67
Final
EILL 78
SIUE 66
Final
FRES 68
AFA 66
Final
NEV 62
COLST 78
Final
ILL 69
NEB 57
Final
SJST 51
BSU 68
Final
ORST 62
OREG 65
Final
UNLV 58
SDST 60
Final
HAW 90
UCSB 98
 
5:00pm Tonight
SIENA
NIAG
 
7:00pm Tonight
LEH
AMER
 
7:00pm Tonight
SCAR
ARK
 
7:00pm Tonight
LAF
BU
 
7:00pm Tonight
PETE
FAIR
 
7:00pm Tonight
BUCK
HC
 
7:00pm Tonight
UNF
LIP
 
7:00pm Tonight
TENNM
MORE
 
7:00pm Tonight
COL
NAVY
 
7:00pm Tonight
ECU
TEMPL
 
7:00pm Tonight
FATL
UAB
 
7:00pm Tonight
FLGC
USCU
 
7:00pm Tonight
CHAR
WKENT
 
7:00pm Tonight
MINN
WISC
 
7:05pm Tonight
MIZST
SILL
 
7:30pm Tonight
COPST
DELST
 
7:30pm Tonight
FIU
MTST
 
7:30pm Tonight
MDES
MRGST
 
7:30pm Tonight
HAMP
NORST
 
7:30pm Tonight
NCCU
NCAT
 
7:30pm Tonight
COOK
SCST
 
7:30pm Tonight
APP
TXST
 
7:30pm Tonight
GSOUT
TXARL
 
8:00pm Tonight
LAMON
UGST
 
8:00pm Tonight
ODU
MARS
 
8:00pm Tonight
TXSA
RICE
 
8:00pm Tonight
FAM
SAV
 
8:00pm Tonight
LATU
SMISS
 
8:15pm Tonight
LALAF
ARKLR
 
8:30pm Tonight
JST
ALAAM
 
8:30pm Tonight
GRAM
ALAST
 
8:30pm Tonight
TXSOU
ALCOR
 
8:30pm Tonight
MVSU
ARKPB
 
8:30pm Tonight
NICST
CARK
 
8:30pm Tonight
TAMCC
HOUB
 
8:30pm Tonight
NARZ
PORST
 
8:30pm Tonight
LAM
SHSU
 
8:30pm Tonight
ARKST
SALA
 
8:30pm Tonight
PVU
SOUTH
 
8:45pm Tonight
NO
SELA
 
9:00pm Tonight
INCWORD
ABCHRIST
 
9:00pm Tonight
ARZ
CAL
 
9:00pm Tonight
WASH
COL
 
9:00pm Tonight
BEL
EILL
 
9:00pm Tonight
WEBER
IDAHO
 
9:00pm Tonight
QUIN
MAR
 
9:00pm Tonight
UCONN
MEM
 
9:00pm Tonight
UTEP
UNT
 
9:00pm Tonight
STEPH
NWST
 
9:00pm Tonight
SUTAH
SACST
 
9:00pm Tonight
DAVID
VCU
 
9:05pm Tonight
IDST
EWASH
 
9:35pm Tonight
DRAK
BRAD
 
10:00pm Tonight
LBSU
CSNO
 
10:00pm Tonight
UCI
CSFU
 
10:00pm Tonight
UCD
UCR
 
11:00pm Tonight
ARST
STAN
 
11:00pm Tonight
WASU
UTAH
 
Final
WIN 1
OTT 3
Final
DET 2
NYR 1
Final
ANA 3
MON 1
Final
COL 3
PIT 1
7:00pm Tonight
BOS
CAL
 
7:00pm Tonight
WAS
MIN
 
7:00pm Tonight
PHI
STL
 
7:30pm Tonight
FLA
DAL
 
7:30pm Tonight
TAM
TOR
 
8:00pm Tonight
NAS
NYI
 
9:00pm Tonight
ARI
VAN
 
10:30pm Tonight
LOS
MON