Chicago Cubs: Pittsburgh Pirates

Happy with a loss? You should be

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
6:40
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- OK, happy might be a strong term, but there were plenty of positives in the Chicago Cubs' just-completed 2-4 homestand. You simply need to ignore the negatives, because most of them don’t matter.

First off, Starlin Castro just might be back to his old self.

“Castro is probably as hot as [Emilio] Bonifacio is now,” Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said after his team’s 5-4 win over the Cubs on Thursday. “This kid is looking like the player that first came up. I mean, balls off the plate, balls down, balls up, barreling balls. He’s fighting at-bats.”

Castro had three more hits on Thursday, raising his batting average to .342 after starting the season 0-for-9. He hit .500 (12-for-24) on the six-game homestand, and, considering he missed all of spring training, that 0-for-9 doesn’t really count.

“I feel really good at the plate,” Castro said after the game.

First baseman Anthony Rizzo is just as hot. He also hit .500 on the homestand while continuing to go the opposite way and is hitting lefties better than ever. His on-base percentage through nine games is .463.

“They look like they’re having fun coming out to the ballpark, playing the game,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said.

That’s a statement former manager Dale Sveum never made, not with the struggles that Rizzo and Castro endured last season. This is why you can smile if you’re a Cubs fan -- even in a loss. Players who are considered core or possible core guys are starting to come through.

Travis Wood threw six great innings on Thursday, newcomer Mike Olt hit his second home run of his career on Tuesday and Bonifacio is tearing up the league. Junior Lake also homered on Tuesday. When the bullpen blows a game, it hurts, but the long-term implications are meaningless. Consider this: Not one reliever has a contract past this season. When the Cubs turn the corner as an organization, they might employ seven new faces down in the pen. That’s the least of their worries right now.

“At the end of the day, we want better results,” Renteria said.

Everyone does, but those results won’t come until individuals take the proper steps in their careers. When the Cubs lose because of Castro and Rizzo -- as they did a lot last season -- that’s of concern. No offense to pitchers Brian Schlitter or James Russell -- they lost the game for Wood on Thursday -- but their losing effort is just not as big of a deal.

It’s hard to see it through the fog of a 3-6 start, but major strides are being taken early in this season. No one knows if it will happen for sure, but if the Cubs do become a contender, moments like this past homestand will be looked back on as a building block.

The losses might pile up, but if production continues from the people who matter, then the Cubs are actually making strides. It sounds crazy, but it was a winning 2-4 homestand.

Olt, Lake might play Thursday vs. RHP Cole

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
12:01
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria intimated that his Thursday lineup won’t employ the usual platoons he has been utilizing over the first 10 days of the season. It means righties Mike Olt and Junior Lake could start against Pittsburgh Pirates righty Gerrit Cole.

“Tomorrow is as good a day as any,” Renteria said after the Cubs 7-5 win over the Pirates on Wednesday night.

Until now, Renteria has played a combination of Luis Valbuena, Ryan Kalish and Ryan Sweeney against right-handed pitching, while Olt and Lake -- along with Darwin Barney -- have seen the lefties. Olt and Lake hit back-to-back home runs on Wednesday.

“I’m hoping to use them a little more back-to-back versus lefties and righties,” Renteria said before Wednesday’s game. “They need to find out who they are, too. It has nothing to do with doubting what they can do.”


Rapid Reaction: Cubs 7, Pirates 5

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
10:05
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 7-5 on Wednesday night to even their series at 1-1. Here’s a quick look at the game:

How it happened: Anthony Rizzo led a 14-hit attack with four of his own -- all to left or center -- including one to keep the fifth inning alive ahead of back-to-back home runs by Mike Olt and Junior Lake. That broke a 1-1 tie to put the Cubs up 4-1. They added to the lead with three more in the sixth on an RBI double by Rizzo, an Olt single and a fielder’s choice by Lake, which was reviewed and overturned in favor of the Cubs. Jason Hammel retired the first 12 batters he faced and gave up three hits on the night -- all solo home runs. Pedro Alvarez, Travis Snider and Russell Martin took him deep. Alvarez and Martin did it again in the 9th inning off of Pedro Strop. The Pirates had six hits, five of which were solo home runs. Emilio Bonifacio added two more hits to give him 19 in the first eight games of the season. The Cubs’ defense up the middle was on target, as well, with Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney making several difficult plays behind Hammel.

What it means: For the third game in a row the Cubs offense came alive. Good at-bat followed good at-bat. The Cubs were patient (four walks) when they had to be, then jumped on starter Wandy Rodriguez when he was forced to challenge them. The Cubs ran him from the game after five innings and 99 pitches. Rizzo, in particular, battled Rodriguez, even when behind in the count. He went to left center three different times in the game for hits, none bigger than with two outs and no one on down 0-2 in the count in the fifth. Three batters later the Cubs were up 4-1. Hammel threw the exact opposite of Edwin Jackson the night before: fast and effective. The latter two solo home runs came with the Cubs up 7-1, so no serious damage there. Hammel was great.

Bonifacio milestones: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Bonifacio tied a Cubs mark (Randy Jackson) set in 1954 with his 19th hit over his first eight games. That’s the third most (Barry Larkin, Dante Bichette) of any major league player in the first eight games since 1961.

Rizzo’s night: He tied a career high with his four hits and, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, it’s the second time he’s had four base hits to left or center.

What’s next: The rubber game of the series takes place on Thursday afternoon, when Travis Wood takes on Gerrit Cole.

Rapid Reaction: Pirates 7, Cubs 6

April, 8, 2014
Apr 8
10:39
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Though they tied the score twice, the Chicago Cubs never led in dropping a 7-6 decision to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night. Here's a quick look at the game:

How it happened: Russell Martin drove home the winning run with a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning to break a 6-6 tie. The Cubs were down 4-0 after a half-inning but tied it on a three-run homer by Starlin Castro in the third. They were down 6-4 in the sixth when Castro went deep again; the solo shot halved the Cubs’ deficit. Then Anthony Rizzo drove home Emilio Bonifacio with the tying run in the seventh. The bullpen couldn't hold it, as Pedro Strop walked two in the eighth and suffered the loss. Edwin Jackson lasted only 4 2/3 innings, giving up nine hits, four walks and six runs.

What it means: Castro is locked in, collecting three hits including the first multiple-homer game of his career. He's 6 for his last 12. Bonifacio continued his hot start with three more hits, raising his batting average to over .500. But Jackson regressed after a decent start last week. His first inning told the story: two doubles, two singles, one walk, one hit batsman, four runs. He looked like the Jackson of last year, and that's not a good thing.

Renteria ejected: In the top of the ninth inning, Cubs manager Rick Renteria was tossed for the first time in his career after arguing balls and strikes with plate umpire Jeff Nelson. Several close calls in the previous inning went against the Cubs, prompting Renteria to come out of the dugout on another close pitch by Jose Veras. He argued with Nelson for a minute or so before heading for the clubhouse.

What's next: Game 2 of the series takes place Wednesday night, when Jason Hammel faces lefty Wandy Rodriguez at 7:05 p.m.

Rapid Reaction: Pirates 4, Cubs 3 (F/16)

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
12:29
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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PITTSBURGH -- The Chicago Cubs lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-3 on Wednesday night as Jose Veras blew his first save and Carlos Villanueva suffered the loss for the second straight extra-inning game, this one going 16.

How it happened: Tony Sanchez brought home the winning run off Villanueva with a single in the bottom of the 16th inning. Anthony Rizzo went deep on a 3-2 pitch to lead off the 12th, but Veras gave up one in the bottom of the inning. Luis Valbuena knocked home Junior Lake with a two-out single in the ninth to send the game to extra innings. The Cubs’ first run of the season came on a replay challenge, when it was determined that shortstop Jordy Mercer never touched second base on a double-play attempt with the bases loaded in the eighth. The Pirates scored on a second-inning hit by Mercer and after Starlin Castro allowed a ball to get by him for an error in the sixth. Castro was 0-6 leaving eight men on base before being double-switched out of the game in 11th. The Cubs scored in the eighth, ninth and 12th innings before losing.

What it means: Veras picked up where he left off in spring training, with the Cubs never expressing any concern over his struggles. Valbuena and Rizzo bailed out an offense that had been struggling through the first two games. The Cubs went 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position on Wednesday. They’re now 1-for-27 on the season in that category. It’s why the Pirates won with just seven hits compared to the Cubs’ 15. The game was the longest in Pittsburgh history.

Bonifacio in the books: Emilio Bonifacio had five hits to become the first in history to register nine in the first two games of the season. He’s 9-for-12 this year.

Replay challenges: There were several, including a 4-minute, 40-second delay while looking at whether a pitch to Starling Marte hit him or the bat. It was initially ruled a foul ball and upheld, but the delays -- including one in the 13th inning -- added to the length of the already-extended game. However, the Cubs’ first run of the season came on a reversal, so they aren’t complaining.

Bean balls: There were five batters hit by a pitch, including Rizzo, twice. Marte was beaned leading off the game. In the bottom of the first came Rizzo’s first of two. Both benches were issued warnings, though Rizzo was hit again in the eighth without an ejection ... or any fisticuffs. There were two more Pirates hit after that.

Arrieta to Double-A: Pitcher Jake Arrieta will start a rehab assignment with Double-A Tennessee this weekend. He’ll pitch Saturday at Pensacola and, if all goes well, will make a couple more starts in the minors before rejoining the Cubs. He’s recovering from offseason shoulder stiffness.

Kalish starts: Left fielder Ryan Kalish started and played in his first game since 2012 -- on the same day his brother Jake pitched for the first time at George Mason University since undergoing Tommy John surgery. The elder Kalish had shoulder and neck issues the past few years that kept him out of game action; his brother hadn’t pitched in 14 months. Jake went five innings, giving up just a hit in a 2-1 win over Cornell, while Ryan went 0-for-2.

What’s next: The Cubs and Pirates conclude their three-game series with an 11:35 a.m. CT start on Thursday, as Jason Hammel makes his Cubs debut against lefty Wandy Rodriguez.

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 5, Pirates 4

September, 13, 2013
9/13/13
9:34
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Here's a quick look at the Chicago Cubs' 5-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday:

How it happened: Anthony Rizzo hit a go-ahead two-run home run in the seventh as Chicago overcame a three-homer fourth inning by the Pirates. The Cubs got out to a 3-0 lead thanks to a Darwin Barney RBI in the second and a Brian Bogusevic two-run homer in the fourth. But the Pirates tied the score when Pedro Alvarez hit an inside-the-park home run in the bottom of the inning with two outs. That was followed by home runs from Russell Martin and Garrett Jones. The Pirates moved in front for the first time on an error by pitcher Brooks Raley in the sixth inning before Rizzo put Chicago ahead again for good.

What it means: Rizzo's home run was huge. Coming into the game he was hitting .200 in games deemed close and late. His blast over the right-field bleachers was his first of the season under those conditions and just RBIs nine and 10. He singled in the ninth, bringing his average back up to .230. More clutch hits are going to be needed from the Cubs' No. 3 hitter as they head into the 2014 season. Jake Arrieta battled through five innings walking just one, the leadoff man. That's the good news. The bad news is he seemingly fell apart after Alvarez's inside-the-park homer.

Alvarez homer: Alvarez hit a high fly ball that either bounced off the top of the wall in right center or was touched by a fan and went back into the field of play toward center field. As he hurried around the bases, Nate Schierholtz tracked the ball down, but it was too late. The play would have undoubtedly been reviewed if not for Alvarez's circling the bases anyway.

Up next: Game 3 of the series takes place on Saturday night when Scott Baker makes his second start of the season. He'll face Gerrit Cole.

Darwin Barney's glove will avoid recycle bin

July, 7, 2013
7/07/13
6:48
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Darwin Barney’s glove won’t be headed for the trash pile following his rare error in the 10th inning Sunday during the Chicago Cubs’ game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Barney, who is known for retiring gloves after fielding miscues, said this piece of leather will live to see another day, essentially because it wasn’t to blame for an unlikely fielding gaffe.

[+] EnlargeDarwin Barney
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

The glove of Darwin Barney will remain a part of his game-day attire for the foreseeable future, despite the error Sunday by the Cubs second baseman that ended his 74-game errorless streak.

Playing in shallow right field with Pirates lefty slugger Garrett Jones at the plate to start the 10th inning, a hard roller hit off the lip where the dirt meets the outfield grass and slightly changed course. Barney ended up getting a finger on his throwing hand in the way, ending his streak of 71 consecutive errorless games to start the season ... and he wasn’t about to cut off the offending digit.

The streak was 74 consecutive games going back to last year.

“That wasn’t a situation where I felt that the glove had anything to do with it,” Barney said in all seriousness. “There was a time in 2011 where I had a backhand that I thought didn’t stick like I wanted it to. I nicely put it in the garbage can.”

After the game, all of Barney’s gloves were lined up on the floor in front of his locker. Each one was in a different stage of flexibility, ready to take over if necessary. Those spare gloves won’t get their day just yet.

“That’s how people are when they’re kind of OCD about their glove,” Barney said. “It’s part of the game. I came back and got that double play and we got the win, so everybody is happy.”

Barney did rebound in fine fashion after the error on Jones to pick a scorching grounder from Pedro Alvarez just off the top of the dirt to turn a 4-6-3 double play. He then tracked down a ball that caromed wildly off pitcher Matt Guerrier to get the final out of the half-inning.

“It’s almost like when you’re young, a lot of the things you tell kids is, ‘Once something like that happens, the next play is the most important play,’” Barney said. “You’re trying to put in the bank and worry about it later and help your pitcher a little bit.”

Barney, who won the National League Gold Glove at second base last season, went 141 consecutive games without an error at one point in 2012. After that MLB record-tying streak for second basemen ended, Barney started the streak that just ended Sunday.

It’s that kind of glove play that made Sunday’s error so shocking and why Barney deals with the expectation that he should always be flawless in the field.

“I expect [perfection] out of myself,” Barney said. “I’ll probably take a few extra balls out there the next time we play a team that requires a shift on a hitter. We’ll see. It’s a play I can make, but those things happen.

“At the end of the year, you go back and look at the mistakes you made and work on it in the offseason and how to fix those mistakes.”

Sveum: Pirates' success starts with pen

July, 7, 2013
7/07/13
2:25
PM CT
Greenberg By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum played for the last Pittsburgh Pirates team that really contended for the playoffs, the 1997 “Freak Show” team that finished 79-83, but just five games back of the Houston Astros in the National League Central.

Now he’s watching from far down in the standings as the Pirates (53-33) make a run for their first playoff bid, not to mention winning season, since 1992.

Sveum only sees one key difference from his fourth-place, 37-48 Cubs.

“We got to remember we’re basically the same team,” he said before Sunday's game. “We’ve scored more runs than them, same on-base percentages, they have more speed. But their bullpen has just been (laughter). That’s what wins now. if you look at the history of baseball in the last 10 years, the teams that have won the World Series have a bullpen that nobody scores runs on. That’s what they’ve had. You give us a bullpen like that, that’s 15 games, that’s how many we’ve lost because of an imploding bullpen.”

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Rapid Reaction: Cubs 4, Pirates 1

July, 6, 2013
7/06/13
6:34
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs evened the weekend series with a 4-1 win over the NL Central-leading Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

How it happened: Alfonso Soriano hit two-run home runs in consecutive innings after Pedro Alvarez hit a solo shot to open the scoring. Soriano’s first blast off starter Charlie Morton came in the fourth inning after Anthony Rizzo doubled to open the inning. Then in the fifth he brought home Julio Borbon with two outs.

Edwin Jackson wasn’t pretty on the mound for the Cubs, battling through 5⅔ innings, but he got the job done, allowing only Alvarez to cross the plate. James Russell, Matt Guerrier and Kevin Gregg shut down the Pirates the rest of the way.

What it means: Jackson is slowly turning his season around, but the more important development might be Soriano’s timing. He has 12 home runs on the season as trade traffic is starting to pick up. After performing well on the road in a designated hitter stint recently, Soriano picked up where he left off, making himself -- and the money he’s due this season and next -- a little more attractive.

Outside the box: During the game, it was announced Travis Wood would represent the Cubs in this month’s All-Star Game in New York. It’s his first selection. … Before the game, manager Dale Sveum said outfielder Brian Bogusevic was close to returning from a hamstring problem.

What’s next: The rubber game of the series takes place on Sunday featuring Carlos Villanueva (2-4, 3.45 ERA) taking on A.J. Burnett (4-6, 3.12 ERA) in a battle of righties.

Villanueva to start Sunday vs. Pirates

July, 4, 2013
7/04/13
7:26
PM CT
By Joe Stiglich
Special to ESPNChicago.com
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OAKLAND, Calif. -- Reliever Carlos Villanueva will make Sunday’s start for the Chicago Cubs in place of Scott Feldman, who was traded to the Baltimore Orioles earlier this week.

Cubs manager Dale Sveum had identified Villanueva as the man he wanted to transition from the bullpen to the rotation to take Feldman’s place. But Sveum originally had said Villanueva needed to build up his pitch count and wouldn’t be ready to start until around the All-Star break.

Instead, Villanueva will jump back in the rotation Sunday against the Pittsburgh Pirates and have a limit of 60 to 70 pitches. The right-hander began the season in the rotation and went 1-3 with a 3.93 ERA in eight starts before switching to relief.

“I think the difference is, when he starts he’s gonna have to have fastball command,” Sveum said. “Out of the bullpen he can kind of get through with his trickery stuff and all that. But when you start, you’re going to have to have fastball command and get some outs with your fastball.”

Sveum said the team was still discussing whether to promote another reliever for Sunday to take Villanueva’s place, and that it would depend partly on how heavily the bullpen is used leading up to then.

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Rapid Reaction: Pirates 6, Cubs 2

June, 8, 2013
6/08/13
6:16
PM CT
Levine By Bruce Levine
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – Let's take a quick look at the Pittsburgh Pirates' 6-2 win over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field:

How it happened: The Cubs were dominated by A.J. Burnett, who allowed just two hits through eight innings. Alfonso Soriano hit a two-run homer to spoil the shutout with one out in the ninth. Starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija was seeking just his fourth win of 2013 despite carrying a 2.96 ERA into the game, but he struggled and yielded four earned runs in six innings.

What it means: Burnett is now 5-0 lifetime at Wrigley Field. The Cubs have lost four out of their last five games after winning a season-high five straight.

Outside the box: Manager Dale Sveum said he is considering giving struggling shortstop Starlin Castro a day off. Castro has not missed a game since 2011. The Cub shortstop hit the ball hard three times on Saturday with no results.

Up next: RHP Edwin Jackson (1-8 6.29) will close out the Pirate series verses LHP Jeff Locke (5-1 2.45) on Sunday in a 1:20 p.m. start.

Rapid Reaction: Pirates 2, Cubs 0

June, 7, 2013
6/07/13
4:33
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Here's a quick look at the Chicago Cubs' 2-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday:

How it happened: A sixth-inning run by the Pirates held up as Russell Martin doubled home Jordy Mercer with the game's first run. Francisco Liriano wasn't perfect, walking five, but he gave up only two hits in seven innings. The Pirates added one in the ninth when Luis Valbuena didn't come home to cut down a runner choosing to go for the double play. Darwin Barney was late covering, and the defense couldn't turn it. The Cubs threatened with two walks in the fourth but Welington Castillo and Starlin Castro couldn't bring anyone home. Travis Wood made one mistake, to Martin, but pitched great once again, lowering his ERA to 2.65. Liriano's is 1.75 now.

What it means: It was a pitcher's day, as cool temperatures and a wind coming straight in limited anything hit in the air. Manager Dale Sveum has tried changing up the lineup, batting Castro seventh again and leading off Barney, but the Cubs couldn't get much going against a very good Pirates staff.

Injury updates: Before the game, Sveum said reliever Shawn Camp was progressing from his toe injury. He threw a bullpen session Friday. There's still no timetable for Tommy John surgery for Kyuji Fujikawa yet, and infielder Steve Clevenger is playing games in the minors but it's not clear when he would return to the big leagues.

Next: Jeff Samardzija takes on A.J. Burnett in Game 2 of the series at 3:05 p.m. CT Saturday.

Rapid Reaction: Pirates 4, Cubs 2

May, 23, 2013
5/23/13
4:47
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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PITTSBURGH -- Here's a quick look at the Chicago Cubs' 4-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday:

How it happened: Before the rains came, the Pirates jumped all over starter Edwin Jackson, who once again wasn't sharp. Jackson gave up a pair of runs -- on six hits -- in each of the first two innings, raising his ERA back over 6.00. Most were hard hit balls as Travis Snider, Andrew McCutchen and Michael McKendry had the runs batted in. The Cubs got on the board in the fourth inning when an Anthony Rizzo ground out drove in David DeJesus. Then the downpour came causing a one hour, 47 minute delay and knocking both starters out of the contest. After play resumed the Cubs got one run closer in the seventh when pinch-hitter Ryan Sweeney drove in Welington Castillo. But that's as close as the Cubs got.

What it means: The Cubs got swept out of Pittsburgh, scoring just six runs in the three-game series. Games 2 and 3 were defined by getting down early and not getting timely hitting late while Game 1 fell apart due to another bullpen meltdown after a great season debut by Matt Garza. As usual, the Cubs played just well enough to be in the games but not well enough to win any of them. It's the Cubs' 40th game out of 46 decided by four runs or less and 28th decided by two runs or less. They dropped to 10 games below .500 at 18-28.

Jackson regresses: Getting hit like he did in the first two innings didn't give his team a good chance to win the game, and that's always a desire of any starting pitcher. He remains the biggest disappointment of any offseason acquisition.

What's next: The Cubs' road trip continues on Friday in Cincinnati when Scott Feldman tries to end a four-game losing streak. He opposes Bronson Arroyo at 6:10 p.m. CT.

Cubs' kryptonite: Left-handed starters

May, 22, 2013
5/22/13
10:57
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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PITTSBURGH -- Even before spring training, (Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum talked about the organization needing more left-handed hitting. They’ve acquired it to some extent.

But the problem with that notion is what to do when a left-handed starter is on the mound for the opposition. Could the Cubs be too left-handed?

They went down to defeat yet again against a southpaw on Wednesday, just as they did on Tuesday. This time it was Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano who shut them down in a 1-0 final.

[+] EnlargeFrancisco Liriano
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsFrancisco Liriano was just the latest left-handed pitcher to freeze the Cubs' batters, allowing just two hits in seven innings Wednesday during the Pirates' shutout win.
“We just can’t seem to do absolutely anything against a left-handed starter,” a frustrated Sveum said after the game.

The Cubs dropped to 4-10 in games against left-handed starters, and in most of those affairs -- win or lose -- they’ve done little at the plate.

“Today you have to tip your cap to Liriano,” Darwin Barney said. “He kept you off-balance.”

We’ve heard that from Cubs before, especially Sveum. How many great left-handers are there anyway?

He applauded Wandy Rodriguez both on Tuesday and in the team’s second game of the season when he shut them down. Then there was Derek Holland of the Texas Rangers and Madison Baumgarten of the San Francisco Giants. The list goes on and on. Sveum worried about his right-handed hitters against right-handed pitchers this spring, but it’s been the lefties that have killed them.

The Cubs did have one threat -- a bases-loaded, no-one out situation in the third inning, with the top of the order coming up.

“That’s the song and dance,” Sveum said after seeing three straight outs. “We get people on and we just can’t get them in.”

Julio Borbon has not looked good in the leadoff spot the last two nights. He was 1-for-8, with the hit coming on a dribbler to first that he beat out. Then there was the at-bat Wednesday with the bases loaded when he again dribbled one to first.

“When you have a guy like Liriano doing what he was doing, you have to make the most out of that,” Borbon said after the force out at home on the play.

But what is Borbon doing leading off two nights in a row against lefty starters anyway? The Cubs only have two right-handed outfielders, Alfonso Soriano and Scott Hairston, the latter of which is hitting below .100 against left-handed pitching. The mix just doesn’t feel right.

“Whenever you don’t do the job, you want the at-bats to be better,” Sveum said. “We were ahead in the count in all three cases and let the bat get away from us.”

The last four Cubs losses have been by one run. Clutch hitting has escaped them against lefties and righties all season, and a .287 on-base percentage against lefties is as mediocre as it gets. Starlin Castro had one of those at-bats with the bases loaded and failed. Anthony Rizzo had the tying run on base several times Wednesday but couldn’t get it done against a lefty either.

At some point there has to be a breaking point for the starting staff that has pitched so well.

“Take it with a grain of salt,” Jeff Samardzija said. “You can only control what you can control.”

Against lefties this year, the Cubs haven’t controlled much.

Quotable

“That’s the problem. We’re relying on our pitchers to drive runs in.” -- Sveum, only half-kidding about the Cubs offense.

“It’s just the way the game goes sometimes. Other times you get a win and give up five runs.” Samardzija, on tough-luck losses.

Rapid Reaction: Pirates 1, Cubs 0

May, 22, 2013
5/22/13
9:21
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Here’s a quick look at the Chicago Cubs’ 1-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday:

How it happened: The Pirates scored their lone run in the first on back-to-back hits with two outs by Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones. But Jeff Samardzija shut down the Bucs down for the next six innings. Francisco Liriano did one better, going seven without giving up a run for Pittsburgh. The Cubs really threatened just once after an error in the third inning loaded the bases with none out. Julio Borbon hit into a fielder’s choice, Starlin Castro struck out and Anthony Rizzo flew out. Rizzo struck out with the tying run on third in the eighth. Then Darwin Barney popped up with the tying and lead runs on base in the ninth inning. Liriano retired nine in a row in the middle innings and gave up just two hits while striking out nine.

What it means: It’s another tough-luck loss for a Cubs starter. Unlike Tuesday, the bullpen didn’t blow this game; the offense did. The missed chances in the third inning are a microcosm of Chicago’s season on offense: no clutch hitting. Even a fly ball would have sufficed, but seeing Castro strike out in that situation is all too familiar.

Outside the box: The Cubs dropped to 6-12 in one-run games this year, after playing their 39th of 45 games decided by four runs or fewer. ... Castro’s average with the bases loaded in his career dropped to .225.

What’s next: The Cubs try to avoid the sweep on Thursday afternoon in Pittsburgh when Edwin Jackson opposes Jeanmar Gomez.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jason Hammel
WINS ERA SO IP
2 3.05 16 20
OTHER LEADERS
BAA. Rizzo .345
HRA. Rizzo 2
RBIA. Rizzo 8
RA. Rizzo 9
OPSA. Rizzo .926
ERAJ. Samardzija 1.29
SOJ. Samardzija 22