Ugh. Brutal loss for the Bucs today, as they were completely inept on offense for eight innings and then rallied in the ninth, only to blow a golden chance at tying the game. Despite three games of fantastic pitching, the Bucs dropped the series and now head out west for a very difficult road trip.
Travis Wood is a fairly mediocre lefty. His stuff doesn’t seem all that impressive and his numbers certainly aren’t either. I can understand getting dominated by Jeff Samardzija, but today it’s fair to chalk this one mostly up to terrible offense rather than great pitching. The Pirates got just one hit off Wood in his six innings of work and didn’t manage anything off the bullpen in the seventh or eighth. (They could have scored in the seventh without the benefit of a hit–Andrew McCutchen reached on an error and stole second with no outs–but they couldn’t even manage to do that.) I don’t think there were a lot of hard-hit outs. They only walked twice before the ninth, and one of the walks was by James McDonald. Just an awful day all around.
That said, McDonald most certainly did not have an awful day. I was pleasantly surprised and relieved to see him post an excellent line: 7 innings, 2 hits, 2 walks, 4 K’s. The Cubs scored one off him in the third when Starlin Castro singled home pitcher Travis Wood, who had also singled. Giving up a hit to the pitcher stinks, obviously, but those were the only two hits J-Mac allowed all day. He didn’t quite seem like the absolutely filthy and unhittable guy we saw in the first half of last season, and several people noted that his velocity seemed to be down (low 90′s), but you can’t argue with the results.
The bullpen, meanwhile, had its first hiccup of the year in the top of the ninth inning (Mark Melancon pitched a clean eighth). Jared Hughes served up a two run blast to lefty Nate Schierholtz (after walking lefty Anthony Rizzo), which certainly makes you wonder why lefties Justin Wilson and Tony Watson weren’t anywhere to be found. The Bucs were down just 1-0 at the time, and it’s maddening to see Clint Hurdle manage the bullpen completely differently in that situation as opposed to a tie game or one-run lead. Heck, he could’ve used Jason Grilli too (though we all know there’s no chance that would ever happen).
With the Cubs up 3-0 in the ninth, they turned again to their famously shaky closer Carlos Marmol. I was feeling OK about the Bucs’ chances with the top of the order up if they could keep the deficit at 1-0, but the two run blast gave Marmol much more breathing room…which he would certainly need. Starling Marte led off with a single, Russell Martin drew a walk, and McCutchen lined a single. Now the Bucs were on the board and still had men at the corners, down 2 with no outs. Gaby Sanchez dribbled a grounder through the hole to bring in another run and set up shop on the corners again, still with no outs.
The Bucs had the tying run on third with nobody out. Pedro was up, and the last thing you want in that situation is a strikeout. Unfortunately, that’s the first thing you expect from Pedro in pretty much any situation, and that’s what happened. OK, 1 out, but the more-reliable Neil Walker was up and the Bucs still needed a mere fly ball or base hit to tie it up. Sigh. Neil bounced a tailor-made double play ball to end the game. As you can see on that win expectancy graph below, that was quite a devastating sequence. Terrible way to lose.
Russell Martin is the only regular that is still hitless through three games.
Clint Barmes doubled for the second straight game. When Travis Snider pinch hit for him in the eighth (he grounded out), Barmes had the only Pirate hit of the game at that point.
Cutch stole two more bases and is now 4-for-4 on the basepaths this season. Like last night, though, he would’ve been out easily on one of them if the Cubs had made a good throw and catch.
The paid attendance was only 11,634. The 12:35 weekday games got some big crowds last summer, but not so much today.
You never want to drop a series, but doing so at home against a bad team is especially problematic. (Not that it’s the end of the world or anything like that, but this might be the only series in April in which the Bucs would probably be “favored.”) The theme of the week, obviously, was great pitching and terrible offense…which sounds a lot like the early part of last season. I still think this lineup can be solid and will get going eventually, but this road trip is going to be an enormous challenge. Just look at the probable starters for this weekend…the Bucs will be facing significantly better pitchers than Travis Wood, and I don’t have much confidence in the bottom of the rotation’s ability to shut down the Dodgers. This series could get ugly.
Cubs 3, Pirates 2 / Box / 2013 Record: 1-2 / Next: Friday, at Dodgers, 10:10