Looking to put another lackluster series in Cincinnati behind them, the Cubs ventured to Pittsburgh to try and get their road record trending in a positive direction. Unfortunately, more sloppy Cubs defense helped get the Pirates going in the bottom of the 1st.
An error by Albert Almora Jr. allowed Adam Frazier to reach second on what should’ve been a single. He was driven in by a Starling Marte base hit, then Josh Bell, who is having a resurgent season and has generally tormented Cubs pitching, torched an Adbert Alzolay fastball for a three-run homer to right to extend the Pirates’ lead to 4-0.
The Cubs got on the board in the top of the 2nd when Javy Báez smoked a solo homer to right center to make it 4-1, but the Pirates continued their attack on Alzolay in the bottom of the 2nd. Bell slammed a two-run homer to right and Colin Moran hit an RBI double to push the lead to 7-1.
Alzolay gave Joe Maddon no option but to pull him from the game after two outs in the 3rd. Brad Brach was the first man up and he got the final out of the 3rd to keep the Pirates from pushing the score any higher. The Cubs offense refused to go down quietly, at least early on.
Anthony Rizzo led off the 4th with a double, Jason Heyward walked, and a single by Almora loaded the bags with one out. That set the stage for Victor Caratini, who is putting together a nice season as the backup to Willson Contreras. He roped a two-run single to center, cutting the Pirates lead to 7-3. After Addison Russell was hit by a pitch, Brach strolled to the plate and calmly laced an RBI single to center making it 7-4.
The Cubs had an opportunity to get more runs, but left the bases loaded after Kris Bryant popped out to end the threat. Brach came back out for bottom of the 4th and surrendered three more runs, including two on a single by Pirates starter Trevor Williams. Frazier hit another RBI double to push the score to 10-4.
The Pirates added three more in the 5th and one more in the 6th making it 13-5. In order to save his bullpen from being completely decimated, Maddon turned to Daniel Descalso to pitch the 7th. As you might expect the position player was unable to hold the Pirates down, and Jung Ho Kang slapped an opposite field two-run homer to make it 15-5.
Craig Kimbrel, who last pitched on Thursday and needed some work, gave up Bell’s third home run of the night and allowed three runs in all. The Pirates ended up with their highest run and hit totals (23) of the season. (Box score)
Why the Cubs lost
Two big offensive innings in the 1st and 2nd put the Cubs behind the eight ball early and they weren’t able to recover after that. The Pirates scored in eight separate innings and the Cubs pitching staff served up 23 hits. Yikes!
The four-run 1st inning set the tone for how this game would go the rest of the evening.
Stats That Matter
- Báez: 2-for-4, HR, double, RBI
- Alzolay: 2.3 IP 10 H, 7 R, 1 BB, 2 HR
- Caratini: 1-for-2, 2 RBI, run
- Bryant: 2-for-5, RBI
- Brach: 1-for-1, first career hit and RBI; 1.1 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 2 K 1 BB
This game can be thrown away as just a weird outlier, but the Cubs are in a rough stretch and are now 20-26 in their last 46 games. That is definitely no small sample size and is concerning heading into the second half of the season.
Game two of this four-game set continues on Tuesday at 6:05pm CT. Kyle Hendricks returns from the injured list and he’ll match up against the Pirates’ Joe Musgrove in a game that can be seen on NBC Sports Chicago and heard on 670 The Score.