The Pittsburgh Pirates might be in a better place to enjoy the spirit of the Little League Classic, the Sunday night game in Williamsport, Pa., while the Chicago Cubs can't take their eyes off the race for the National League Central title.
The Pirates have fallen with a thud into last place in the NL Central, going 7-26 since the All-Star break, so the special game Sunday -- and the full day of events connected to it -- can be the center of attention.
The teams will spend the day in Williamsport, meeting with young players and participating in various events.
"I remember more about when we got there in the morning and watched the (Little League World Series) game and all that stuff with the kids," Pittsburgh closer Felipe Vazquez said of the inaugural Little League Classic two years ago, according to the team's website. "I don't really remember much of the game. I think I had more fun just being there."
Pirates starter Trevor Williams didn't pitch in his team's 6-3 win over St. Louis that day in 2017, but he soaked in the experience.
"I just remember everyone was really happy," Williams told the team website. "The kids were really happy. The fans were really happy. The parents. Everyone was just really happy to be there. It was a really fun day. It was something that, at the end of the day, I was looking forward to doing again."
It might be something of a novelty game, but it still counts.
The Cubs are in a tight race with St. Louis and Milwaukee for the division lead. They broke a four-game losing streak Saturday with a 2-0 win at PNC Park, the site of the first two games of the weekend series.
Of course, the Little Leaguers who are being celebrated aren't in a playoff chase.
Chicago manager Joe Maddon said when meeting with the Little Leaguers, he will suggest they concentrate on having fun, running hard to first base, things like that.
"They don't need to hear launch angles," Maddon said.
In the Classic, Chicago left-hander José Quintana (10-7, 4.11 ERA) is scheduled to match up against Pittsburgh right-hander Mitch Keller (1-1, 7.94 ERA).
Quintana is 2-0 with a 1.89 ERA over his past three starts. Tuesday at Philadelphia, he did not get a decision despite a career-best 14 strikeouts. He allowed two runs, one earned, in six innings in what ended up a 4-2 Cubs loss.
It was a game where all his pitches worked.
"Everything," Quintana said. "Changeup. Fastball command was good. Breaking ball to put it away. Everything, yeah."
Quintana is 4-1 with a 2.81 ERA in eight career starts against the Pirates, including 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA in three starts this season.
Keller, 23, who has never faced the Cubs, will be making his fifth major league start.
The top-ranked Pirates prospect is coming off his first career win, when he gave up two runs, one of them earned, in five innings Monday as Pittsburgh beat the Angels 10-2 on the road to end an eight-game losing streak.
Keller got called up for that game, and the timing worked out well.
"It was a really good game for Mitch to be involved in because he's been separate from all of (the losing)," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He was able to come in and put a foot down."
--Field Level Media
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