What you need to know: The Cubs gave Jake Arrieta a 4-0 lead in the first inning, and eventually the Cubs led 6-2 into the late innings. But the bullpen could not hold the lead, and a three-run blast from Andrew McCutchen put the Pirates ahead in the late innings. Despite the best efforts of a late Kris Bryant homer, the Cubs would fall to the Pirates for the second straight game, this time 8-7.
Next level: The Cubs bullpen, and Joe Maddon’s management of it, are still working through early growing pains, and this has never been more evident than it was today. Following a Starling Marte homer in the sixth inning to bring the Pirates within a 6-3 score, Arrieta got two more outs before Maddon pulled him for Brian Duensing, who forced an immediate groundout from Josh Bell to end the sixth.
That probably should have been it for Duensing, as a Strop/Rondon/Davis 7-8-9 would have probably made the most sense, but Maddon stuck with the lefty for the seventh. After a groundout for Francisco Cervelli, Josh Harrison homered to the basket in left-center field—aided by a 25 mile-per-hour wind—to bring the score to a 6-4 Cubs lead. Alen Hanson singled and was brought in on an Adam Frazier single to trim the Cubs lead to 6-5. Maddon then went with Strop to face Marte, who walked, putting two on with two out for Andrew McCutchen.
McCutchen would homer to left field, giving the Pirates an 8-6 lead, their first of the game. This was all the Pirates would need, as their bullpen held down the fort and, despite Tony Watson surrendering a solo homer to Kris Bryant in the ninth, they would win the game 8-7 in a high-scoring Saturday afternoon at Wrigley.
Top WPA Play: It should be no secret that Andrew McCutchen’s three-run blast (.502) left the most significant dent on the game, bringing the Pirates from a 6-5 deficit to rather commanding 8-6 lead, one their bullpen would not relinquish in their final nine outs.
Bottom WPA Play: The Cubs did have a chance to tie—and even win—the game in the bottom of the ninth following Kris Bryant’s home run. With two outs, Ben Zobrist drew a walk, placing the tying run at first and setting the stage for Addison Russell, who had a terrific day in his own right (2-5, 2B, 3B, 3 RBI). He struck out, creating the most substantial negative (-.097) for the day, unfortunately for him.
To quote my favorite quarterback on the Green Bay Packers to assure Cubs fans: relaaaaaaaaax. The Cubs are 6-5 on the season; like you, I’d much rather they be 11-0, but a baseball season is loaded with ebbs and flows, and if a team is in the process of figuring itself out, you’d rather it be in April instead of August. Brian Duensing did what he needed to do; booing and chiding him and Pedro Strop in mid-April doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
The Cubs have lost two in a row to a previously-woeful Pirates team. They were close games, and tomorrow, the Cubs send Jon Lester to face off against Jameson Taillon in an Easter Sunday matinee at Wrigley Field. First pitch is scheduled for 1:20 PM CT.
Lead photo courtesy Matt Marton—USA Today Sports