Cubs record: 27-9 (1st in NL Central)
W: Gerrit Cole (4-3, 3.05)
L: Jon Lester (4-2, 1.88)
S: Mark Melancon (11)
MVP: Gerrit Cole
The Cubs headed into Sunday’s game looking to complete the series sweep of Pittsburgh and the second sweep against the Buccos in as many chances this season. Unfortunately for Chicago, the Pirates were just a little bit better in this one, as the Cubs fell, 2-1.
Both Gerrit Cole and Jon Lester were exceptional on the mound Sunday, as they each put zeros on the scoreboard through the first six innings. Pittsburgh would break the scoreless tie in the top of the seventh, however. Starling Marte lined a one-out single between Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist, stole second and came around to score the first run of the game on a Jung Ho Kang double.
That run felt like 10 with the way Cole was pitching, as the Pittsburgh ace allowed just three hits and struck out seven over eight shutout innings.
The Pirates added an insurance run in the top of the ninth on a Kang home run and it would prove to be a big one. Despite having thrown just 95 pitches, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle decided to pull Cole and it almost came back to bite him. The Cubs mounted a rally against Pittsburgh closer Mark Melancon but could only push one run across the plate in the final frame.
Cole was absolutely filthy for the Pirates. After getting knocked around by the Cubs in his last outing against them on May 2nd in Pittsburgh (4 2/3, 6 H, 4 BB, 5 ER), Cole rebounded in a big way. Chicago was simply unable to put up any kind of threat against the big right-hander.
The side effect of Cole being so dominant on Sunday is that it somewhat overshadowed Lester’s own outstanding performance. The Chicago lefty had a no-hitter through 6 1/3 before allowing Marte’s single in the seventh. By the time he exited the game following Kang’s go-ahead double, Lester had allowed just one run on two hits and two walks while striking out nine over 6 2/3 innings.
The tough-luck loss seems to have become a calling card of sorts for Lester during his brief tenure in Chicago, as he lost several close games last season in similar fashion.
It’s difficult to call the Chicago offense bad in this game. The Cubs simply ran into a really good pitcher who was on top of his game. The best opportunity against Cole actually came in the bottom of the first when Dexter Fowler reached on a leadoff pop-fly double that shortstop Jordy Mercer lost in the sun.
Fowler never advanced past second base, however, and the Cubs as a whole only had two more base runners against Cole the rest of the way.
Hector Rondon came into the game in the top of the ninth in a non-save situation for the Cubs and struggled. The Chicago closer allowed two hits, including a home run, and walked a batter in 1/3 of an inning before getting the hook.
I don’t buy into the notion of not using your closer in non-save situations. It is nonsensical to waste your best reliever just because the situation doesn’t fit the definition of a save, so I won’t read any more into his outing other than to say Rondon simply had a bad day. It was bad timing as far as the Cubs are concerned, though, since that insurance run for the Pirates loomed large after the Cubs finally got on the board in the bottom of the ninth.
The Cubs have the day off on Monday before traveling to Miller Park to take on the Brewers (16-22) Tuesday night at 7:10 p.m. (CST). Kyle Hendricks (2-2, 3.03) will take the ball for Chicago, looking for his third consecutive quality start. The Brewers will counter with right-hander Chase Anderson (1-5, 6.11), who is having a rough go of it in his first season in Milwaukee.